House Investigates Lipitor Ads Featuring Endorsements
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on Thursday sent letters to advertising agencies allegedly involved with a television ad campaign for the cholesterol medication Lipitor, manufactured by Pfizer, that features Robert Jarvik, inventor of the first artificial heart, to request information about payments made to individuals who might have served as stunt doubles for him, the New York Times reports.
In the letters, committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) and subcommittee Chair Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) wrote that the subcommittee has begun an investigation of "false and misleading statements and the use of celebrity endorsements of prescription medications in direct-to-consumer advertising."
In an ad that aired from March 2006 to July 2006, Jarvik appears to row a boat, but, according to the Times, a Seattle man served as a stunt double for him. The man, Dennis Williams, has declined to comment, but a newsletter published by a rowing club to which he belongs reported on his role as a stunt double for Jarvik in the ad.
The subcommittee investigation seeks to determine whether stunt doubles for Jarvik appeared in other ads. Stupak said, "We are taking a hard look at the deceptive tactics of drug companies in their direct-to-consumer advertising" (Saul, New York Times, 2/8).
According to the Times, the ads mark a "rare instance of a well-known doctor's endorsing a drug in advertising -- and it has helped rekindle a smoldering debate over whether it is appropriate to aim ads for prescription drugs directly at consumers."
In a recent letter to Pfizer, Dingell raised concerns that the ads could mislead the public because they portray Jarvik, who is not a licensed cardiologist, as a medical expert. Dingell said, "It seems that Pfizer's number one priority is to sell lots of Lipitor, by whatever means necessary, including misleading the American people." Pfizer has defended the accuracy of the ads (Saul, New York Times, 2/7).
PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Thursday included a discussion with Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, and Gail Shearer, director of health policy analysis for Consumers Union, about the ads ("NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 2/7).
Audio of the segment is available online. Video and a transcript will be available Friday afternoon.