A Birth Control Pill That Promised Too Much

New York Times

By NATASHA SINGER
Published: February 10, 2009

Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals has just introduced a new $20 million advertising campaign for Yaz, the most popular birth control pill in the United States.

But the television ads, now running during prime-time shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and on cable networks, are not typical spots promoting the benefits of a prescription drug. Instead, they warn that nobody should take Yaz hoping that it will also cure pimples or premenstrual syndrome.

As part of an unusual crackdown on deceptive consumer drug advertising, the Food and Drug Administration and the attorneys general of 27 states have required Bayer to run these new ads to correct previous Yaz marketing.

Regulators say the ads overstated the drug’s ability to improve women’s moods and clear up acne, while playing down its potential health risks. Under a settlement with the states, Bayer agreed last Friday to spend at least $20 million on the campaign and for the next six years to submit all Yaz ads for federal screening before they appear.

“You may have seen some Yaz commercials recently that were not clear,” an actress says in the new corrective television spot, as she looks into the camera. “The F.D.A. wants us to correct a few points in those ads.”

Yaz is the best-selling oral contraception pill in the United States, with sales last year of about $616 million or about 18 percent market share, according to IMS Health, a health care information company.

Critics of consumer drug advertising say that while the F.D.A. sends a few dozen letters each year asking drug companies to suspend, amend or correct informational pamphlets and videos, it is unusual for the government to require commercials to set the record straight.

“They rarely require these corrective campaigns,” said Judy Norsigian, the executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, a health education and women’s advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass. But she said the popularity of the Yaz brand and the misleading ads had demanded a rare punishment. “These ads should never have been out there,” Ms. Norsigian said.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.