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Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, June 11, 2013

Pharmaceutical Drug Marketing to Our Children:
Bordering on Criminal

by Helen Saul Case

(OMNS June 11, 2013) I can't be the only one noticing. In fact I'm pretty sure I'm not. Drugs are being marketed directly to our children. If you don't believe me, just take a closer look at the commercials plastered about our TV shows at an estimated and alarming 80 an hour (1), many targeting our little ones with images of animals and cartoons. Everywhere in the world, except the United States and New Zealand, direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical drug advertising is prohibited (2). Perhaps it's time to think about why it should be banned here, too.

TV ads are designed to make an impact. They are meant to foster brand familiarity and loyalty. They appeal to our emotions. They often emphasize our shortcomings as fathers, mothers, friends, and spouses. Commercials influence us into thinking that using a particular product is a normal, ordinary, good idea: an everyday thing to do that everybody is doing.

I remember being shocked the first time I saw a pharmaceutical drug ad on TV. I couldn't believe that anyone would take a medication with a list of side effects that seemed so much worse than the disease it supposedly helped treat. Now, it is easy to become numb to them. The sheer volume of drug advertisements we are inundated with on a regular basis practically ensures we accept them as a natural part of life. Now that their presence isn't as shocking, it is easy to pay more attention to the beautiful imagery on the screen rather than the described dangers of the drug. I can rattle off brand name after brand name, and I'm not even paying attention, nor do I have any interest in them.

Until recently. When my baby girl starting pointing at cartoons and animals in pharmaceutical ads, I had had enough.

Profits and Preschoolers

There is no money in selling something nobody believes in. Drug companies want their commercials to be appealing. When I was little, I once asked my dad why they called a certain candy a "Thin Mint." He said because no one would buy them if they called them "Fat Mints."

Drug ads are alluring, especially to young eyes. The commercial for the drug Abilify, a buddy for your antidepressant, has a friendly little cartoon "A" coming to the rescue of a happy little Rx pill and a lovely cartoon woman. Variants of their commercial showcase a childish depression cloud and a rainy cartoon umbrella. A quick glance would have you believing you are watching children's programming meant to teach about the alphabet or the weather.

The antidepressant Zoloft bouncing cartoon ball can't be described as anything but cute (who doesn't love a cowlick?) and even more "adult" commercials like those for the inhaler Spiriva have real live elephants capturing the attention of my toddler.

How about those positively mesmerizing Lunesta commercials with the peaceful glowing butterflies? (She loves those.) An entire nation appears to be on drugs as the butterflies, indicated with thousands of illuminated specks, glow across a map of the United States. They capture your attention as a voice softly coos, "Join us." This particular ad doesn't even tell you the name of the drug, and therefore doesn't have to tell you what is wrong with the drug, either. The commercial advises you to seek out their website,, which dons a name rather similar to their "unnamed" product. Of course, they've already made you familiar with their drug in numerous other broadcasts, so they don't even need to tell you what it's for. It's kind of like the Nike Swoosh. We all know what it means.

Do adults really need cartoons to understand what a drug can do? Or is there a more sinister plot afoot?

Drugs for the Whole Family

Some of you are telling me to turn my TV off. What business has a toddler watching "Let's Make a Deal" anyway. And while I hear you, I can tell you that unless I leave the TV off all the time, she's going to see a drug ad sooner or later. She does love books and magazines, especially ones with animals. Maybe we will just stick to those. Of course, the most recent publication we received wasn't any better.

My cat receives a magazine in the mail from her veterinarian. It encourages her to come in for her checkups. She can't read very well, but if she could, she'd see the pages are dotted with drug ads appealing to the emotions of her owner.

Drugging pets is big business. For example, Pfizer Animal Health is now Zoetis, a multi-billion dollar company, just one in a multi-billion dollar industry. There is real money to be made medicating our "companion animals." And unless you have some sort of animal prescription drug coverage, which is highly unlikely, you will be paying for those meds out of pocket. And we are. A New York Times article about our "Pill-Popping Pets" indicated that "surveys by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found that 77 percent of dog owners and 52 percent of cat owners gave their animals some sort of medication in 2006" (3). That means half to three-quarters of our furry friends are being drugged. By us. (Apparently, there is even a pill for all that puking my cat has been doing (4). Who knew?)

A Lesson to Be Learned, Again

Have we forgotten about Joe? Perhaps we should take a step back in time and consider the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Joe Camel, the cartoon promotion for Camel cigarettes, "which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleges was successful in appealing to many children and adolescents under 18, induced many young people to begin smoking or to continue smoking cigarettes and as a result caused significant injury to their health and safety." R.J. Reynolds was accused of promoting a "dangerous" product through "a campaign that was attractive to those too young to purchase cigarettes legally." Joe Camel was "as recognizable to kids as Mickey Mouse." After the campaign started, the FTC claimed "the percentage of kids who smoked Camels became larger than the percentage of adults who smoked Camels" (5). Were kids starting to smoke, and continuing to smoke, because of good ol' Joe? Were they too young to know what hit 'em?

As to "medicine," I used to use very little of this stuff for infants. Now, I categorically state: just say no to drugs. - (Pediatrician Ralph K. Campbell, M.D.)

We're Asking for It

Maybe kids can't get their own prescription, but they know someone who can get it for them. We lead by example. We are going to our doctors and asking for drugs for ourselves and for our children. Our doctors are all too happy to dole them out. They'll even throw in some free samples to get you started. There are billions of dollars spent every year advertising drugs directly to us, and it is working. The most heavily advertised pharmaceuticals see the largest increase in prescriptions and purchases (6).

A Slippery Slope

I believe advertising drugs in a child-friendly way is dangerous. For example, what kid doesn't have a bad day? Or a ton of them? Being moody is part of being human, and it is certainly part of being an adolescent. Putting the idea in a young mind that being upset is an emotion that should be medicated is tricky territory. Critics of the pharmaceutical industry agree that "a lot of money can be made from healthy people who believe they are sick" (7).

Kids want to be happy. Parents want to help their children feel better. They may see minimized risk due to the positive associations drawn from drug commercials. We may be overconfident in drugs and in the doctors that prescribe them. We may think, "Well, if my physician gave it to me, it must be okay."

Making drugs a common and everyday part of life: it appears that's what pharmaceutical companies are trying to do. I think back to school trips I took with my middle school students. We are required to carry their medications when we travel, and each year, over the course of many, the hefty Ziploc bags I lugged around filled with medications grew and grew until I practically had my backpack overflowing with them. Eight to twelve kids, and a backpack full of meds. What was happening? I was surprised, but perhaps I shouldn't be: One out of every two people in America is taking prescription medications (8). And so too is their cat.

It took 23 years before Joe Camel was taken out. How long before we pop the Zoloft bubble and squash the Nasonex bumblebee?

Safety of Supplements versus the Dangers of Drugs

I believe drug treatment for disease should be last on the list, and nutrition should be first. Are there folks that need medicines? Yes. But what about natural, effective and safe ways we can combat allergies, depression, and trouble sleeping? I haven't seen any commercials about niacin (B3) for mental disorders. Or about the importance of high-dose vitamin C. Or the health benefits of optimal doses of vitamin D. We often turn away from nutrition and toward medication. This, ladies, gentlemen, and children, is wrong.

Just Say No

Drugs are dangerous (9). The front page of Zoloft's own website states "Antidepressant medicines may increase suicidal thoughts or actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults especially within the first few months of treatment" (10). With over a hundred thousand deaths every year due to pharmaceuticals taken as directed (11), I really don't want my kid to be among them.

The old adage is true: just say no to drugs. And if the results of the "Say No to Drugs" campaign (12) are any indication of how well it works to do so, it will be a sorry success indeed.

(Helen Saul Case is the author of The Vitamin Cure for Women's Health Problems and coauthor of Vegetable Juicing for Everyone.)

For further reading:

To access forty years of articles describing orthomolecular approaches to health management and treatment of disease visit


1. Spiegel, Alix. "Selling Sickness: How Drug Ads Changed Health Care." October 13, 2009. Accessed June 2013 from

2. Woodward, L. D. "Pharmaceutical Ads: Good or Bad for Consumers?" ABC News, February 24, 2010. Accessed June 2013from

3. Vlahos, James. "Pill-Popping Pets." July 13, 2008. Accessed June 2013 from

4. Cerenia. Accessed June 2013 from

5. Federal Trade Commission. "Joe Camel Advertising Campaign Violates Federal Law, FTC Says. Agency Charges R.J. Reynolds With Causing Substantial Injury to the Health and Safety of Children and Adolescents Under 18." May 28, 1997. Accessed June 2013 from

6. Findlay, S. "Research Brief: Prescription Drugs and Mass Media Advertising." National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation (NIHCM Foundation), September 2000. Accessed June 2013 from

7. Ibid.

8. Carroll, J. "Half of Americans Currently Taking Prescription Medication." Gallup News Service, December 9, 2005. Accessed June 2013 from

9. Mercola, Joseph. "Pharmaceutical Drugs are 62,000 Times More Likely to Kill You than Supplements." July 24, 2012. Accessed June 2013 from

10. Zoloft. Accessed June 2013 from

11. Starfield, B. "Is US Health Really the Best in the World?" JAMA 284(4) (Jul 26, 2000):483-485.

12. Reaves, Jessica. "Just Say No to DARE." Thursday, Feb. 15, 2001 Accessed June 2013 from,8599,99564,00.html#ixzz2Va6a9TK7

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