Maybe it’s just age, but I’m starting to pay attention to the pharmaceutical ads I read. In the latest Forbes (January 9), there’s a supplement of 5 sides that addresses benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Like most men of a certain age, one of the things that spooks me is prostate cancer, but I’ve never heard of BPH. Basically, it effects urination: in extreme cases, you can’t control it. One of the 5 sides has a patient questionnaire from the American Urological Association to help men determine whether they should seek a diagnosis. (No, I’m not in the risk zone. If I was, do you think I’d be blogging about it for the world to see?)
Yes, there is a pill: it’s called Flomax® (tamsulosin HCI) and it’s made by Astellas Pharma, a Japanese firm, and marketed in the U.S. by Boerhringer Ingelheim. And, yes, the companies paid for the ad. However, the pill is not mentioned until the third side, and only in a box taking up less than a quarter of the page. The fifth side, of course, is taken up with the reams of small print that the government requires: too small, detailed, and technical for most laypeople to follow, and a waste of resources by government diktat that could have been invested elsewhere.
The rest of the supplement consists of the urologists’ patient questionnaire and a sober description of symptoms, diagnosis, and a variety of treatments ranging from “watchful waiting” to surgery.
So, the chances of my taking this pill are zero, but I know a heck of a lot more about this ailment than I did before. Boehringer Ingelheim helped me become better informed even though it does the company no good. Of course, that’s not what it wanted to achieve, but it’s what economists call a “positive externality”. For a classical economist, this implies that direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising should not be banned; it should be subsidized!
I wouldn’t go that far, but I am more determined than ever to resist government control of communication between drug makers and patients.