Acne and Advertising Effects

26 Dec Acne and Advertising Effects


Since the FDA eased advertising regulations in 1997, television has been flooded with direct-to-consumer drug ads from pharmaceutical companies. Advertising in magazines and on the Internet soon followed. FiercePharma reports that in 2012 the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $2 billion on advertising, most of which went to TV ads. That number actually represents several years of declining ad budgets, from a high of $5.4 billion in 2006.

Many of these pharmaceutical ads are targeted at adults, but it’s not only adults who are exposed to drug ads; children and teenagers see them, too. It’s awkward enough when young kids are exposed to ads about erectile dysfunction treatments, but the FDA is now concerned about ads directed specifically at teens. Many of these ads are for acne medications, a common concern for kids in this age group. Acne treatment seems fairly harmless because remedies have been available and marketed for years.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

According to Bloomberg, the FDA is proposing to run a study designed to examine how ads are perceived by teens as opposed to how they are viewed by adults. The level of an individual’s development of cognitive, social, and emotional skills plays a large role in how people weigh risks and benefits, and most adolescents are deep in the process of developing these critical skills. Research has shown that the parts of the brain responsible for critical thinking and decision-making aren’t fully mature until a person reaches his or her mid-20s. The FDA is particularly concerned that teens downplay risks in the face of potential benefits, especially if the benefits are presented as being immediate. Pharmaceutical ads play on the social and peer pressures that many teens experience and may lead teens to focus on potential benefits of drugs without considering the risks. This is especially concerning because of the serious potential side effects of some drugs. Even acne medication is suspect because some acne treatments include ingredients that have been associated with depression and suicidal thoughts in teens.

To understand how teens view advertising, the FDA’s proposed study will create websites advertising fictitious prescription drugs to treat acne and other issues that may affect teens then show the websites to a cross-section of study participants, including teens, young adults, and parents. The FDA wants to gather information about how such ads are perceived by teens as opposed to adults and to identify if more regulation is needed to cover direct-to-consumer ads aimed at teens. The FDA is seeking a better understanding of how teens perceive risks and benefits of marketed drugs and how to make risk information clear to teens in ways they will be able to understand and take seriously.

It’s too early to say how regulations regarding direct-to-consumer ads aimed at teens may change as a result of this study. With the FDA concerned about potentially serious or lethal side effects of some drugs, it’s easy to speculate that the agency may require risk information to be presented in more vivid and clear ways that will make an impression on teens. But specific information regarding regulatory changes will have to wait until the FDA has collected

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