AHF believes that marketing tactics employed in GSK's, "First Impressions?Can Be Deceiving" advertising campaign are irresponsible and a ruthless attempt by GSK to maintain dwindling market share while disregarding the negative impact such advertising has on patients' health. In a July 30th letter to Mike Leavitt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), AHF President Michael Weinstein noted: "The attached print ad (part of a series of similar ads run by GlaxoSmithKline) is the most egregious example of this type of advertising. This ad is designed to instill fear in the minds of AIDS patients by telling them that switching AIDS treatment (presumably from GSK drugs) may lead to increased side-effects and potentially treatment failure. This message is GSK's response to the increased number of patients switching from its drugs to newer treatments and seeks to discourage AIDS patients from changing their antiretroviral (ARV) regimens regardless of their medical needs. Further, the explicit message in this ad, 'Avoid hidden dangers from switching your HIV medicine,' is that safety and efficacy information provided by a patient's doctor or the FDA is incorrect or misleading."
According to today's Wall Street Journal: "The ads are part of a larger trend of drug companies taking aim at rival HIV drugs, hinting at side effects and other drawbacks, experts say." The article also noted that: "A development fueling the sharp-elbows advertising: The market for HIV medicines has grown crowded, and companies want to protect their market share."
The two print advertisements in question appeared in the June and July/August issues of POZ, a national monthly magazine targeting those living with HIV/AIDS. Both ads utilize the same scare tactic to dissuade patients from changing their HIV medications. One ad features a scenic photo of the sun setting over the ocean with what appear to be sailboats floating calmly in the background. The text, invitingly, reads: "First Impressions?" Upon turning the page, an ominous image greets you. A close-up on the triangular boat sails reveals them to be the fins of sharks lurking just beneath the water's surface. The text on this page: "?Can Be Deceiving. Avoid hidden dangers from changing your HIV medicines." And, opposite the shark fin image: "If you are thinking about switching your HIV medicine, make sure you know what you're getting into." Another similar ad, with the same text, features a scenic view of a placid lake, sand dunes, palm trees and serene fields, that-on the next page-are revealed to be hiding a fierce, hungry-looking lion.
"With these latest ads, GSK has sunk to a new low. The company has resorted to exploiting patient fears in order to sell a product, while remaining unconcerned about the harm caused to patients who are scared off treatment altogether because of GSK's tactics," said AHF President Michael Weinstein. "We are disappointed that POZ magazine-a publication targeted to an HIV-positive population-would run such ads. This kind of underhanded negative advertising creates fear of HIV treatment in general, which could dissuade people from seeking treatment at all. We are also disappointed that, despite repeated communication with the FDA regarding our concerns over a similar GSK ad campaign last year, there appears to be a total lack of oversight of direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. That is why we are appealing to HHS, in the hopes that our concerns will be heard and these harmful ads pulled."
In addition to writing a letter to HHS, AHF has launched a campaign to raise public awareness of GSK's damaging advertising tactics. AHF's campaign begin last week and features print ads in publications including the Washington Blade, the Village Voice and Los Angeles' Frontiers.
"Unfortunately, GSK's advertising tactics only serve to amplify fears and doubts patients may already have about antiretroviral therapy, making it harder for doctors to treat them," said Homayoon Khanlou, M.D., AHF's Chief of Medicine/U.S. "It is important for patients and their providers to work together to make treatment decisions independent of drug industry advertising that might compromise the doctor/patient relationship and potentially the health of the patient."
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