Context: Spending on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for prescription pharmaceuticals has risen to record levels, five times as much as in 1996 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Major health care provider organizations have called for additional regulation of DTCA. These organizations argue that the negative impact of such advertising outweighs the informational value claimed by the pharmaceutical industry. The industry maintains that further restrictions on DTCA are not warranted because it is successfully self-regulating via “guiding principles” for DTCA as certified by firm executives.

Methods: The authors measured recent industry spending on DTCA and used regression models of Nielsen Monitor-Plus data to assess pharmaceutical firm self-regulation after the public disclosure of noncompliance with industry self-regulatory principles, specifically regarding the exposure of children and adolescents to broadcast advertisements for erectile dysfunction drugs.

Findings: Public disclosure of noncompliance with self-regulatory DTCA standards did not bring advertising into compliance. Results demonstrate that firms failed to meet the industry standard during every quarter of the six-year period of this study.

Conclusions: Results support previous research findings that pharmaceutical self-regulation is a deceptive blocking strategy rather than a means for the industry to police itself. Policy recommendations include broadcast restrictions on adult content and deincentivizing DTCA via tax reform.

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