“Heartfelt Advice, Hefty Fees”: Actress Lauren Bacall and Others Promote Drugs On National Television, But Don’t Reveal They’re On the Payroll of Drug Companies

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Several days ago a story appeared in the New York Times that goes like this:

“In a rare interview, Laruen Bacall appeared on the NBC “Today” program in March, telling Matt Lauer about a good friend who had gone blind from an eye disease and urging the audience to see their doctors to be tested for it.

“’It’s just–it’s frightening because it–it can happen very suddenly,’ she said. Ms. Bacall then mentioned a drug called Visudyne, a new treatment for the disease known as macular degeneration.

“She never revealed that she was being paid to tell the story, and neither did the network, NBC.”

The list of who is on the payroll of drug companies is impressive. Actresses Lauren Bacall and Kathleen Turner. Actors Rob Lowe and Danny Glover. Talk show hosts Larry King and Montell Williams. Figure skater Peggy Fleming. All of these celebrities have appeared on top-rated shows to discuss medical problems and often directly recommended a drug. But viewers usually never learn that these pitches are mere paid advertisements financed by the drug companies.

According to the Wall Street Journal, actor Rob Lowe fetched upwards of $1 million for his role in a so-called “public education” campaign about treating infections caused by chemotherapy. The money was coming from Amgen, the pharmaceutical firm that manufactures the drug Neulasta which cures the problem. On April 22 he appeared on “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” to discuss how his dad, Chuck Lowe, suffered from the ailment.

Public health officials have expressed grave concern for years with the ambitious promotional campaigns of drug companies. But the Food and Drug Administration says everything that firms like Amgen and Pfizer are doing, is legal.

The FDA has long been accused of being sympathetic to the drug firms it regulates. Earlier this week, the Agency asked a federal judge in Los Angeles to overturn a ruling that would have barred certain television ads for the drug Paxil. The judge had ruled drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline misled consumers by saying Paxil is not habit-forming. Some 35 patients said they suffered withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, fever, and “electric zaps” to their bodies.

The Plaintiffs’ attorney Karen Barth told the Associated Press, “The fact that the FDA is now trying to step in and advocate on the side of the pharmaceutical company is disgusting to me.”

Well, today the New York Times is reporting that CNN will begin to reveal any connections between guests and pharmaceutical companies.


  • GARY RUSKIN, executive director of Commercial Alert



  • Sidney Wolf, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group


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