The US drugmakers industry association has responded to a hard-hitting report which criticises direct-to-consumer advertising of medicines on television by saying that it ignores the great strides companies have made in making ads that are more educational.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America was reacting to a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine which claims that of the ads shown on US television from June 30 to July 27, 2004, 82% made some factual claims and made rational arguments (86%) for product use, but few described condition causes (26%), risk factors (26%), or prevalence (25%). Emotional appeals were almost universal (95%) and no ads mentioned lifestyle change as an alternative to products, though some (19%) portrayed it as an adjunct to medication.

Some ads (18%) portrayed lifestyle changes as insufficient for controlling a condition and often framed medication use in terms of losing (58%) and regaining control (85%) over some aspect of life and as engendering social approval (78%). Products were frequently (58%) portrayed as a medical breakthrough.

Dominick Frosch, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles and leader of the study, said all the commercials contained some "problematic" omissions, adding that “I think consumers should be more sceptical of the pharmaceutical ads than some surveys find they are."

David Kessler, a former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, and University of California-San Francisco legal professor Douglas Levy wrote in an editorial that pharmaceutical companies should not have “the standards and ethics of selling soap or some other consumer product that presents minimal risks."

However PhRMA’s senior vice president Ken Johnson claimed the study had little relevance given that it is based on 2004 ads and “does not reflect any of the positive changes in DTC advertisements over the past 12 months.”

He added that last July, PhRMA members announced voluntary guiding principles on DTC ads which “go beyond existing regulatory requirements in a number of ways.” FDA officials and others have indicated that ads are now more educational and that companies are submitting them to the agency “for prior review in accordance with the principles. That is true progress,” he said.

Mr Johnson concluded by saying that “a ban on the advertising of prescription medicines would hurt patients’ ability to learn about new medicines in a timely fashion and does not advance quality healthcare."