The House Health subcommittee took a first crack at amending Rep. Pallone’s drug safety bill yesterday. Disappointingly, the committee voted to strike language that would have allowed the FDA to prohibit direct-to-consumer ads for new drugs for up to three years.

A trio of New Yorkers — Edolphus Towns, who offered the amendment, Anthony Weiner and Eliot L. Engel — led a Democratic split with Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., the author of much of the ad provision.
The New Yorkers, joined by six other Democrats, voted with Republicans to adopt a less restrictive amendment relying on fines and voluntary ad review by the FDA. The vote was 23-9.
Much of the rhetoric centered on First Amendment concerns, but the New Yorkers also had other concerns.
“These things are very important for the New York economy, quite frankly,” Engel said of the television and print ads that Pallone’s substitute amendment targeted. “The networks are all located in New York, the advertisers are all located in New York. It’s a big hometown industry.”

From the Congressional Quarterly 6/19/07

Industry, indeed. Apparently the consumers and constituents who repeatedly voice their dislike and distrust of drug ads on TV don’t carry as much weight. But as long as we don’t step on the toes of NYC ad agencies… phew, that was a close one.

The new amendment maintains the FDA’s current zero-power-to-regulate-ads status, although establishes penalties from $250,000 – $500,000 for false or misleading ads. Call me crazy, but by the time a “false or misleading” ad is on TV reaching millions isn’t it a little too late for this financial slap on the wrist? If that ad is generating billions in sales (as many blockbuster drugs do) it’s safe to say that a quarter mil is as about effective as me giving up my pocket change.

Thankfully other portions of the bill that reform and strengthen our drug safety system remained in tact, despite proposed amendments that would have jeopardized funding for FDA drug safety programs and weakened other provisions in the bill.

Tomorrow the bill goes to the House Energy and Commerce committee for further discussion and amendment.