You’ve probably seen television commercials advertising prescription drugs for any number of things—from fibromyalgia (fi-bro-my-al-ja) to depression. Usually these ads end with an announcer running through a long list of dangerous side effects and warnings so fast that viewers can’t possibly get all of them, even when they include death.
Did you know that the United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow prescription drug companies to market medications directly to the public?
Some drug companies even use celebrity spokespersons, such as pro golfer Phil Mickelson who appears in a commercial promoting a drug for arthritis. The ad shows a vibrant green golf course on a sunny day while the background voice states that “sometimes fatal events” could occur in people who use the drug. Those include infections, tuberculosis, lymphoma and other cancers, and blood disorders. But the voice listing these effects seems more like an afterthought.
Risk of Addiction
Some prescription drugs marketed on TV carry the risk of addiction if they are abused. For example, Ambien is a central nervous system depressant prescribed for sleep disorders and could lead to addiction if not used as prescribed.
An Ambien TV commercial appeals to the viewer through humor—a rooster in the bedroom—and also through the promise of a good night’s sleep. However, the side effects listed at the end of the commercial are cause for concern—abnormal behaviors like being more outgoing or aggressive, confused, agitated, and even experiencing hallucinations. Ambien might also worsen depression and increase suicide risk.
Stay Alert to Marketing Gimmicks
In a previous blog, we talked about truth in advertising with alcohol commercials during the 2011 Super Bowl. The purpose of commercials for any product—alcohol, candy, cleaning supplies, or medications—is to sell that product.
The Food and Drug Administration oversees advertising that drug companies put on TV, but it doesn’t control how viewers react to the ads. A survey of 500 physicians reported that 78 percent of physicians believe their patients understand the possible benefits of the drugs they saw in a commercial, but only 40 percent believe their patients understand the possible risks. About 75 percent of physicians surveyed believe that commercials for medications make people think the drug works better than it does.
So, when you watch TV, see if you recognize shows and commercials about prescription drug abuse and think about whether or not what you’re seeing is accurate.
When you hear that something comes in strawberry, ice cream, chocolate, peach, or grape flavors, your first thoughts may be: ice cream, candy, or something made for kids. After all, manufacturers of kids’ toothpastes, medicines, and vitamins add fun flavors to make their products more appealing. You may also think that flavored products are harmless, like candy. But if you think flavored mini cigars are harmless, you’re mistaken. Cigars of any kind, including flavored mini cigars, contain the same addictive and cancer-causing qualities as regular cigarettes. In fact, cigar tobacco has a high concentration of nitrogen compounds, some of the strongest cancer-causing substances known. Cigar smoking also is linked to gum disease and tooth loss. Although the Food and Drug Administration has banned similar flavored cigarettes, there’s no such ban (yet) on mini cigars. Unfortunately, more and more teens across the country are smoking mini cigars. In some states, like Maryland, statistics show that 14% of teens smoke cigars—this mirrors the rate of cigarette smoking among teens. But Maryland isn’t ignoring the issue. Recently, the state launched a new campaign called The Cigar Trap to let teens discover the truth about these flavored brown sticks that you might see behind the checkout counter, near the candy bars and gum. Find out more about mini cigars, including how you can tell your friends the facts behind the flavors.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (known by most people as the "FDA") has banned cigarettes with flavors that make them taste like fruit, candy, or clove. Which reminds me…real candy and fruit are soooo much better…but this ban does raise some questions—so, in case you were wondering:
Who is smoking flavored cigarettes? Studies show that 17-year-olds who smoke are three times more likely to use flavored cigarettes as smokers over 25. In fact, some people think cigarette companies add the flavors as a way to get teens to try smoking. The FDA says young people are twice as likely to report seeing advertising for these flavored products, so the cigarette companies are obviously putting the ads in places that are popular with teens. (Hmmm, pretty sneaky).
Why ban the flavored cigarettes? 3,600 young people start smoking each day, and almost all adult smokers (90 percent) started smoking as teenagers. If the idea of flavors encourages kids to smoke, many of them will keep smoking and face a lifelong battle with nicotine addiction (hardly worth it).
Do the flavors make the cigarettes any safer? No way! They are just as toxic as ever. In fact, the flavors might hide some of the bad taste of cigarettes, so in a way they are more dangerous.
How will they enforce this ban? The FDA encourages people to report continuing sales of flavored cigarettes through a special tobacco hotline (1-877-CTP-1373) and website. You can learn more about the risks of flavored tobacco products at www.fda.gov. Might even make a great report for health or science class!
What does SBB think about flavored cigarettes? The companies that make these flavored cigarettes think they are pretty smart, trying to make money off of teens who think "candy, fruit and clove" sound like fun. However, smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.*
So don't be "tricked" into smoking by the lure of flavored cigarettes.
You probably know that smoking is NOT cool—and that it’s really dangerous, too. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and kills nearly a half a million people each year. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke have been linked to serious long-term side effects, including cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and even death. People who smoke may become infertile, and pregnant women who smoke are more at risk for stillbirths, having babies with low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it will require prominent cigarette health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. Check out the new warning labels here: http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/Labeling/CigaretteWarningLabels/default.htm.
But cigarette smoking doesn’t just affect the smoker—“secondhand” smoke also affects families and friends and many thousands of others. Secondhand smoke is exactly what it sounds like: nonsmokers inhale the smoke that “firsthand” smokers exhale from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that each year, secondhand smoke causes as many as 3,400 lung cancer-related deaths in the United States.
So, if you want a longer, healthier life, better to indulge in activities like sports, yoga, running, and spending time with friends and family.