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AIDS group asks Viagra maker to halt ad campaign

Advocacy panel says the marketing effort promotes the drug's recreational use. Company denies claim.

December 14, 2006|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles-based AIDS advocacy group is calling for the manufacturer of Viagra to halt a marketing campaign that the group says promotes the drug's recreational use, increasing the risk of acquiring HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation will run advertisements in publications in New York, San Francisco and South Florida, with the first in Southern California to run today in the L.A. Weekly. The group is particularly concerned that Viagra, manufactured by Pfizer Inc., has become popular among gay and bisexual men who use methamphetamine, which has been associated with risky sexual behavior and HIV infection.

"We call on Pfizer to exercise responsibility by discontinuing marketing to men with mild erectile dysfunction, and by initiating an educational campaign on the dangers of Viagra and meth targeting men who have sex with men," the ad said.

Pfizer denied the AIDS group's claim that its advertising encourages recreational use of the drug, and said its advertising already states that Viagra does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

"We've always been committed to the safe and appropriate use of Viagra," said Shontelle Dodson, Pfizer's senior medical director. "We always encourage men to see their physicians for the proper diagnosis."

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said Pfizer has one ad showing an attractive, smiling man holding a football with the tagline, "Be this Sunday's MVP"; and another with the line, "What are you waiting for?" as a heterosexual couple, after hearing their movie is sold out, smile at each other.

"This is like saying, 'Have a party. Have a good time. Use Viagra,' " Weinstein said.

"Such marketing could make Viagra sound like a party drug, and for a drug to be used when one wants to take risks," said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, deputy health officer for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Pfizer to stop running TV ads for Viagra that featured a middle-aged man looking at his wife, with an announcer saying: "Remember that guy who used to be called Wild Thing? He's back."

The FDA said the TV ads implied that Viagra promised "a return to a previous level of sexual desire and activity," which the agency called an unsubstantiated claim.

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