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Rx-to-OTC SWITCH AD GUIDELINES BY NBC NETWORK REINTERPRETED TO ALLOW

Executive Summary

Rx-to-OTC SWITCH AD GUIDELINES BY NBC NETWORK REINTERPRETED TO ALLOW reference to the product's former prescription strength for "identification purposes only," NBC Advertising Standards Manager Kittie Davenport told the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association's 1990 legal conference in Washington, D.C. Oct. 17. Sparked by ibuprofen's switch from prescription to OTC status, NBC altered its policy "to allow for the referencing of the former prescription status, with a modifying copy, at nonprescription strength," Davenport explained. The network also "allowed the referencing of a prescription drug that commonly uses the ingredient," she said. The network will accept copy that describes the product as "prescription strength," as long as the drug was formerly available by prescription, and is available OTC in the same dosage, Davenport said. Comparative advertising referencing a drug's prescription heritage may also be acceptable, provided that the comparison refers only to strength, and not to efficacy. Davenport showed an Actifed (Burroughs-Wellcome) commercial as an example of an acceptable ad. The product is described as "full prescription strength," and "the only one" of "the three leading cold medicines once sold by prescription" available "in its original maximum full-prescription-strength formula." Products that cause problems under the new policy are those that do "little to change their name from the original prescription drug, such as Imodium and Imodium-AD, and Motrin and Motrin-IB," Davenport said. An ad for such a drug, when "coupled with the language of prescription origin," she said, "walks a very fine line," because it may improperly equate the OTC version of a drug with its prescription form. While the network has changed its guidelines in practice, the standard on the books has yet to be changed. The guidelines proscribe any "direct or indirect references to or comparisons with prescription medications which have the effect of equating strength or effectiveness of the advertised product with a prescription medication." The network is considering a written change to its guidelines. Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Barry Cutler told the meeting that the reclassification of ibuprofen was significant for his bureau's advertising guidelines as well. The change "amplifies the need for care in advertising...as the line between prescription and OTC status gets narrower," he said.
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