The Federal Trade Commission said that some of those TV ads blanketing cable these days from lawyers seeking personal injury case clients for suits targeting drug companies may be unfair and deceptive, and has warned advertisers.
While the FTC sent letters to legal practices and lead generators expressing its "concerns" that those ads may be unfair under the FTC Act, media outlets running the ads also have a duty to do their due diligence on deceptive ads.
The commission would not say just who was getting the letters, likely because it was a warning rather than the signal it was taking some action or had concluded the ads were, in fact, deceptive.
The letters warn that some lawsuit ads may misrepresent the risks associated with the medication, and could leave viewers with the impression the medicines were unsafe and had been recalled.
The ads include ones targeting blood thinners, diabetes drugs, acid reflux medications and high blood pressure medicine.
Advertisers must have have scientific evidence to substantiate any claims about purported risks.
The FTC points out that the FDA has reports of consumers who saw such lawsuits, discontinued using those medications, and suffered "adverse consequences." Such ads "might" constitute an unfair act or practice, the FTC said in the letters, and advised that advertisers "may" need to include clear disclosures that consumers need to consult a doctor before discontinuing medication.
The FTC also warned advertisers about how the ads are produced, saying that ads that begin with sensational warnings or alert could deceive viewers into believing it was a government-sanctioned alert or PSA. Ads have to make clear they are just that, ads, not official health warnings.
The FTC said it will continue to monitor the ads and will take action if necessary.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.