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Billboards for AIDS Drugs Criticized for Distorting the Reality of Disease

April 23, 2001|Linda Marsa

Advertisements for prescription AIDS drugs on billboards, bus shelters and kiosks that feature 20-something men in robust good health have drawn fire from activists and San Francisco city officials, who considered banning the ads.

Critics maintain the ads send the wrong message by distorting the reality of living with AIDS and not educating the public on how to prevent transmission of HIV. They point out that many AIDS patients who take the drug cocktails aren't the buff poster boys in the ads--they're very sick and suffer serious side effects from the medications.

A public hearing was held at City Hall last week to determine what to do about the controversial billboards. "We did establish that the ads were misleading," says Tom Ammiano, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, though no drug company representatives were present at the meeting.

City officials backed off, though, from imposing an outright ban, opting instead for a more conciliatory approach--for now anyway. "We're working on getting pharmaceutical company representatives to come to my office for a sit-down," says Ammiano.

However, if efforts to persuade companies to change their ad campaigns fail, the city has no qualms about bringing on the heavy artillery. "We'll pursue legislation that would result in a banning of the ads," Ammiano says.

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