Pfizer Pulls Ads Amid Commercial Speech Questions


Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has pulled its television ads featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik due to criticism that the ads are misleading. According to the New York Times, Pfizer has spent more than $258 million advertising its cholesterol lowering drug Lipitor, mostly on the ads featuring Dr. Jarvik. Unfortunately, Jarvik is not a licensed physician.

Jarvik, while a graduate of medical school, has no medical license and cannot legally write prescriptions. Time Magazine says that, in the ads, Jarvik admits to taking Lipitor himself and "appears to give medical advice as a practicing physician." A congressional committee has called this deceptive advertising. Representative Bart Stupak told Business Week: "When consumers see and hear a doctor endorsing a medication, they expect the doctor is a credible individual with requisite knowledge of the drug."

The ads have also declared Jarvik to be the inventor of the artificial heart. The Times reports that former colleagues of Jarvik sent a letter to Pfizer complaining that their ads should give credit for the artificial heart to Jarvik's mentor Dr. Willem J. Kolff and his associate Dr. Tetsuzo Akutsu at the University of Utah. Pfizer subsequently changed its ads to give Jarvik credit for the invention of the "Jarvik artificial heart." His colleagues again complained, saying a large group worked on the invention.

One of Pfizer's ads shows Jarvik rowing across a serene mountain lake. Although an accomplished rower, the man in the boat is actually a body double, who doesn't row. So much for honesty in advertising.

Pfizer's president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations, Ian Read, said: "The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world - cardiovascular disease."

Pfizer's advertisements do not receive the full free speech protections of the First Amendment. The government's authority to regulate commerce gives it the ability to regulate commercial speech. The Federal Trade Commission may order the removal of deceptive advertisements from the airwaves. In this case, however, Pfizer voluntarily pulled the Jarvik ads. Pfizer says it is working on a new advertising campaign without Dr. Jarvik.

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