Killing Three Birds with One Stone

Killing Three Birds with One Stone

© David Burton 2018

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     Congress needs to enact a law prohibiting all television advertising of prescription and non-prescription medicines! Such an action should be bi-partisan and would have the result of killing three birds with one stone. First, it would help to bring down the cost of prescription medicines, which is proving to be an immense financial burden on those needing to pay for all or part of their prescription medicines. It would also help to reduce the cost of our subsidized medical care system. Second, such an action would go a long way toward reducing the massive number of burdensome television commercials that are clogging the airways and the TV cable channels. Third, it would return the practice of medicine to the doctor’s office and restore the discussion of treatment of illnesses to the doctor and the patient.

Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

     The costs of prescription drugs continue to bedevil American consumers. One major reason for this is the amount of money drug companies spend on advertising. “The US pharmaceutical industry spent $6.1 billion on advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers in 2017. [Emphasis mine] Since 1962 these ads have been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that they are not false or misleading. The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries where direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is legal.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 1)

Some drug companies spend up to twice as much or more on marketing and promoting their products—including advertising—as they do on research and development. [2] and spending on drug advertising is growing. Prescription drug spending on {TV} advertising grew 62% between 2012 and 2017, even as ad spending for most other product types was flat. Over that span of time, “ ‘Pharmaceutical advertising {grew} more . . . than any other leading ad category,’ said {the}, chief research officer at . . . a consulting firm that tracks multimedia advertising. It exceeded $6 billion {in 2016), with television picking up the lion’s share . . .
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     “The American Medical Association took a hard-line position on these ads in 2015 by calling for a complete ban [Emphasis mine], saying ‘direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.’
     “Such a prohibition is unlikely. Prior efforts to push such an outcome have stalled, generally on free-speech arguments by the powerful drug lobby and assertions that such ads provide valuable information to patients about treatment options.
     “One thing is certain: DTC {Direct-To-Consumer} advertising is big. And, as nearly everyone who watches TV knows, it’s getting bigger.
     “Some programs . . . get most of their advertising from drugmakers. {An} analysis shows 72% of commercial breaks on the CBS Evening News have at least one pharmaceutical advertisement. Commonly, the ads target a range of conditions that generally affect this demographic, such as dry eyes, erectile dysfunction, pain and constipation. Sixty-two percent of commercial breaks during General Hospital include a drug ad.
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     “Drugmakers were on track to spend an estimated $6.4 billion on DTC advertising in the U.S. {in 2016}, up 5% from 2015 . . . In 2012, spending for pharmaceutical TV ads was the 12th-largest category. By last year, drug ads were sixth. . .” (Ref. 3)

     “. . . according to a May 2017 AARP {American Association of Retired People} cover story in their bulletin, ‘Even after accounting for their research investments, however, drug companies are among the most profitable public businesses in America. And an analysis from the research company Global Data revealed that 9 out of 10 big pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research.’ ” [Emphasis mine]’ (Ref. 4)

     In addition to simply adding to the cost of a prescription drug, TV advertising also contributes indirectly to increasing the cost of drugs. “Anyone who watches television knows these ads are pervasive, and anyone who studies them knows they are contributing to the cost of prescription drugs by encouraging patients to request physicians to prescribe more costly branded medications where cheaper alternatives are available.” (Ref. 5)

Reduce the Enormous Number of Annoying TV Commercials

     “Electronic communication – television, telephone and the internet - in these United States is being inundated with excessive commercials, unwanted telemarketing calls and spam. Our government is doing little to address the problem.
     “Do you watch television? Of course you do! How much air time is devoted to the program and how much time is wasted on those endless, repetitive and largely boring commercials? I once decided to see how many commercials were consecutively aired. I was astonished to count 18 commercials, one right after another without a break. It’s been reported that, in 2013, there were ‘three-hour morning shows where the ads, teasers and bumpers consume as much as 35 minutes an hour.’ [Emphasis mine]. (Ref. 6) I’ve tried channel surfing during commercial breaks and found that all I am doing is surfing from one commercial to another commercial. It even seems that all the TV stations have colluded to air their commercials at the exact same time so you can’t avoid being forced to watch the commercials. You can’t win - you can’t escape the commercials. What infuriates me still more is the fact that I am paying my cable provider an exorbitant monthly fee for my TV programming and I am ending up simply paying for more and more commercials and less and less entertainment.
     “The problem with excessive commercials is bad and the problem is growing. In 2009, the broadcast networks averaged nearly 13.42 minutes of commercial time per hour. In 2013, that figure grew to 14.25 minutes. The growth has been even more significant on cable television. In 2009, cable networks averaged 14.45 minutes per hour. In 2013, the average grew to 15.63 minutes. [7] {Today}, it’s likely we are getting 16 or more minutes of commercials per hour on cable TV. These days it seems more and more like there are TV channels which simply run commercials that are occasionally interrupted with programs.
     “TV commercials are more and more dominating the majority of TV channels. “{B}ecause of these excessive commercials, they have taken one of America’s favorite pastimes, and turned it into a nightmare.
     “ ‘No matter what channel you switch to, there is a seventy percent chance it will be at a commercial, or be going to commercial within sixty seconds. . . .
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     “ ‘{What} about the drug {commercials that, in 10 seconds, tell} the potential benefits of their product, but then come the {90 seconds of} negatives . . . Shouldn’t that be your doctors job . . . ?
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     ” ‘. . . We are paying a lot of money to get television into our homes, and I don’t appreciate them using my living room, as their billboard to show an endless amount of annoying commercials.’ [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 8)(Ref. 9)

     “Today, the television viewing public in America is held hostage to broadcast and cable television companies that foist seemingly endless and repetitive commercials on their viewers. The American public is essentially helpless in avoiding this interminable stream of unwanted sales pitches. It’s long past the time when our legislators need to take action to stop this money-grubbing assault on our senses!
     ”Broadcast and Cable networks keep piling on more and more commercials. Even the supposedly commercial-free publicly-funded stations now tell us who is sponsoring their ‘commercial-free’ programs and contributing funds to keep their programming going. The time has come to get back to content without the excessive selling now rampant on television. ‘The early promise of cable TV was that, in exchange for paying for TV, we'd be spared the commercials and get a wider variety of quality programming. But that never happened. Not only do the cable-only channels show ads, they show lots of ads. Classic reruns and movies are cut beyond recognition to make room for more ads than can possibly be sold, with the void filled by endless station self-promos. Even HBO runs ads - infomercials disguised as ‘Making of’ shows for current movies.’ (Ref. 10) With respect to cable television, since you and I are paying for the cable service, one would think that we could get programming without commercials - or, at least, with a minimum of commercial interruptions. Today, nearly all of us are paying a lot of money to get television into our homes and we’re not getting our money’s worth. It’s time to stop the TV industry from using our living rooms as their billboards to show an endless amount of annoying commercials.” (Ref. 11)

Return the Practice of Medicine to the Doctor’s Office

     One’s personal health care is an issue that needs to be discussed and resolved in the physician’s office and not in one’s living room in front of a television screen. “I am appalled at those commercials for various prescription medicines that end up terrifying the potential beneficiary of the medicine with a seemingly-endless listing of all the bad things that can happen when one uses the medication.
     “There is nothing more repugnant that watching a ten (10) second advertisement for some drug or medication and then being subjected to ninety (90) seconds of a listing of all the potential harm that can come from using the medicine. . . Let’s leave all that information about harmful side-effects to a discussion between the patient and the doctor who prescribes the medications. A TV ad is not the place to present this information!
     “. . . ‘Drugs have harms as well as benefits, and the harms are greater when drugs are indiscriminately prescribed. Consumer advertising, delivered to the masses as a shotgun blast, rather than as specific information to concerned patients or caregivers, results in more prescriptions and less appropriate prescribing.
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     “ ‘Advertising also provokes a subtle shift in our culture -- toward seeking a pill for every ill. While there are many for whom stimulants and other medications can be a godsend, , , , too often, a pill substitutes for more human responses to distress. U.S. clinicians prescribe stimulant medication for A.D.H.D. at a rate 25 times that of their European counterparts. The complex decision to start a long-term medication should be motivated by the observations of . . . a caring clinician - not stimulated by rosy ads.
     “ ‘Consumer drug advertising is banned in most of the world . . .
     “ ‘In the information age, in which more balanced sources of information on drugs should be widely available, biased pill-pushing messages are a public health menace. To advance the health of the public, the United States should follow the lead of the vast majority of countries, and ban direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising.’ [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 12)(Ref. 11)

     We should all get together and demand that Congress and the president pass legislation that will kill three birds with one stone. That one stone is a law prohibiting all advertising of prescription and non-prescription medicines on television!. The three birds that would be killed are: 1} the exorbitant cost of prescription drugs, 2) the endless number of advertisements for prescription and non-prescription medicines, and, 3) the presentation of limited medical information to the predominantly uneducated public without the involvement of a knowledgeable medical expert.



  1. Should Prescription Drugs Be Advertised Directly to Consumers?,, 23 October 2018.
  2. Is There a Cure for High Drug Prices?, Consumer Reports, 29 July 2016.
  3. Prescription drug costs are up; So are TV ads promoting them, Bruce Horovitz and Julie Appleby, USA Today,
    16 March 2017.
  4. America’s Health Care - 2019, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 347, 3 January 2019.
  5. U.S. Drug Prices vs The World, Emily Miller, drugwatch, 25 January 2018.
  6. "Commercial Creep"—I Hate Commercials and You Should Too, Stuart Fischoff Ph.D., Psychology Today ,
    21 February 2013.
  7. TV networks load up on commercials, Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times, 12 May 2014.
  8. Too Many TV Commercials \, , Accessed 27 November 2016.
  9. Inundated With Commercials, Telemarketing Calls and Spam, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 274,
    8 December 2016.
  10. What's wrong with Television, Bill O’Reilly,, Accessed 10 June 2015.
  11. Something All Politicians Can Support – Major TV Advertising Reforms, David Burton,
    Son of Eliyahu: Article 316, 1 February 2018.
  12. Consumer Drug Advertising Should Be Banned, Kurt Stange, The New York Times, 16 December 2015.

  31 May 2019 {Article 361; Whatever_65    
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