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Pfizer's 'Viva Viagra' TV ads come under fire

The Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) criticises Pfizer for excluding a caution against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV from its latest television advertisement for the erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra

The Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has criticised US pharmaceutical company Pfizer for excluding a caution against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV from its verbal medical risk warnings in the latest television advertisement for the erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra (sildenafil).

The "Viva Viagra!" campaign, which depicts 40 to 50+ year old men singing "Viva Viagra" to Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas!" tune, drew criticism from AHF when it premiered in the US in October 2006.

The ad is seen as an escalation of Pfizer's strategy to promote Viagra as a "party drug", encouraging its recreational use. Pfizer has also buried important STD and HIV risk warnings in this latest ad campaign.

In the "Viva Viagra!" ad, the message that "Viagra does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV" is flashed briefly on screen and is negated in the verbal list of other health warnings, such as the risk of taking Viagra in combination with nitrates, and the potential side effects, such as vision loss.

Whitney Engeran III, director of prevention and testing for AHF, said: "The only inkling one might get that the 'Viva Viagra' ad is for a medication and not for a wild weekend in Las Vegas, is the potential health risk information that is spoken at the end. For Pfizer to exclude information about STD and HIV transmission in the verbal warnings, when all other major health risks are mentioned, is to further shirk its responsibility to protect the public health and to alert the public to the very realãand sometimes life-threatening consequences of unprotected sex."

"Shame on Pfizer for attempting to capitalise on Viagra's 'party drug' image, without taking seriously its responsibility to warn of the potential risks associated with the recreational use of the drug. Shame, too, on the FDA for failing to takes its responsibility to public health seriously and for allowing Pfizer to continue to push the envelope with its ads for Viagra," accused Engeran.

The latest criticism follows the 2006 objection by the AHF of Pfizer's holiday-themed print ad campaign. AHF believed this campaign promoted unsafe sex by encouraging the recreational use of Viagra on holidays such as New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl. The ads depicted a handsome, forty-something male grinning at the camera with taglines, such as: "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" and "Be this Sunday's MVP". The FDA forced Pfizer to withdraw its previous ads which inferred that men could re-capture their youthful vigour and become a devil-horned "wild thing" by taking Viagra.

30th September 2008

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