Say Goodbye to Those Absurd Side-Effects Readouts in American Drug Commercials

Say Goodbye to Those Absurd Side-Effects Readouts in American Drug Commercials

Drug commercials in the U.S. are set to become more intelligible. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration updated its regulations regarding prescription drug ads that air on TV or radio. The change will specifically mandate that a drug’s side effects and other potential dangers “must be presented in a clear, conspicuous, and neutral manner.”

This update has been in the works for a long time. In 2007, the federal government passed a law that expanded the authority of the FDA, which included an explicit requirement that drug ads be crystal clear about side effects and contraindications (situations when someone should probably avoid a drug, such as during pregnancy). The FDA first proposed a rule outlining how this requirement should be fulfilled in 2010, but it’s only now been finalized and put into action.

The new rule lays out five standards that prescription drug commercials must adhere to when marketing their products to customers. These are:

  • That every bit of information in the ad “must be presented in consumer-friendly language and terminology that is readily understandable.”
  • That the audio information concerning a drug’s side-effects and contraindications is at least as understandable as the rest of the commercial. Notably, this standard also applies to the pacing of this information, which should seemingly get rid of the frenzied listing of side-effects at the end that’s become a meme at this point.
  • That TV ads present text explaining a drug’s side effects at the same time as the audio portion and that this text is left up long enough for it to be read easily.
  • That any text information presented during a TV ad is formatted to be easily legible.
  • And that the ad avoids any audio or visual elements that would distract people from understanding the information concerning a drug’s negatives.

The new guidelines only apply to ads for prescription drugs, not over-the-counter medications or supplements, since advertising for these products is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. The changes won’t happen instantly. The rule will only come into effect 180 days after it’s officially published, and it will take a full year before the FDA will begin to enforce compliance.

The U.S. is only one of two major countries (along with New Zealand) that allow drug commercials to exist in the first place. Organisations like the American Medical Association have long condemned the practice, arguing that an outsized focus on marketing has helped drive ever-rising drug costs. And studies have found that these ads typically don’t provide customers the most accurate or useful information.

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