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No chill pill for drug ads

While the threat of legislation to regulate prescription-drug advertising seems to be waning in the House, it is growing in the Senate. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is circulating a draft bill that would limit the amount a drug company could deduct for advertising and marketing to the amount it spends on research and development.

For example, if a drug company spent $100 million researching and developing a drug and another $110 million marketing it, the company could write off only $100 million of the marketing costs.

"If the drug companies dispute these statistics and claim that they spend more on research and development than advertising, then they should not object to this bill because it will not affect them," Stabenow says in talking points.

Some senators have noticed drug companies are increasingly advertising prescription drugs and are worried such ads boost the cost of these drugs to consumers.

"We never saw a prescription drug advertised on an NFL football game five years ago," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a hearing last month. "We do now. If we have prescriptions, why are we advertising to consumers? You want to get rid of prescriptions, advertise to consumers. But if you have prescriptions, it's sort of a contradiction."

On the House side, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) has said he was considering legislation that would regulate direct-to-consumer drug advertising. But, in a press conference this week, he said that, instead, he will try to include more money for the Food and Drug Administration to review those ads and may also include money for a study on how the ads affect consumers.

What might be stifling Thomas's enthusiasm is the fact that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.), whose committee has authority over the FDA, has said he believes that drug companies have a First Amendment right to run the ads and does not intend to make any changes to the law that would affect such advertising.