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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 12804

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Hopkins C.
Research, drug companies differ over male impotence
The Independent Monthly (University of Queensland student newspaper) 2005 Jun18

Full text:

RESEARCH has disputed a major drug company’s claims that 39 per cent of Australian men suffer from erectile dysfunction.
A pamphlet supplied in a Pfi zer Welcome Back Tiger information pack says: “Got a problem with your erections? You’re not alone! In fact, 39 per cent of Australian men aged between 18 and 91 have some kind of erection problem that affects their ability to have and enjoy sex”.
However, in 2004 Western Australian researchers found that only 25 per cent of adult men suffered from erectile dysfunction.
And only about 8 per cent of men were found to have severe erectile dysfunction.
Pfizer, which produces Viagra, based their higher claim on an earlier Western Australian
study that investigated the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in men attending general
medical practitioners.
Although 39 per cent of the men in this study did have erectile dysfunction, 81 percent of the participants were over 40 years of age, which is an older age distribution than the general community.
A researcher involved in both studies, Dr Kim Chew, said the interpretation of published
studies was beyond the control of the researchers.
Pfi zer spokesperson James Fuller said no qualified representatives were available to
comment on the company’s interpretation of the research.
“I do point out that the information we’ve used has been stringently assessed before now
and have been found to comply with the very strict industry Code of Conduct,” he said.
Pfizer’s revenues from Viagra last year were said to reach US $1,678 million despite the
introduction of competing preparations such as Cialis and Levitra.
Worldwide revenue from erectile dysfunction pills produced by Pfizer, Eli Lilly and
Bayer was in the order of US $2,400 million last year.
In Australia, pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to advertise prescription medicines
directly to the public.
However, they are permitted to run disease awareness and education campaigns designed to encourage people to see their doctor.
Pfizer have used the results from the Western Australian general practice study in
all aspects of their Welcome Back Tiger education campaign.
The website says: “Around one in three Australian men of many different ages have erection problems that affect their ability to have and enjoy sex”.
During her presentation on the Pfizer Welcome Back Tiger educational DVD, prominent sexual heath expert Dr Rosie King said: “A recent survey found that 39 per cent of Australian men had erectile dysfunction and only one in ten men seek help.”
Lisa Tait from the Australian Consumers Association said the statements in the DVD had authority because they were spoken by a doctor, but the claims still needed to be supported by scientific evidence.
The Pfizer drug Viagra features strongly on Dr King’s Intimate Solutions website under the heading “Dr Rosie Explains”.
The website says: “If you’re one of the millions of men who suffer from erectile dysfunction or ED (also called impotence), now is the time to find a new start with the breakthrough oral treatment: VIAGRA®”.
Mr Fuller said Dr King was paid for the time spent making the DVD, but the opinions expressed were her own.
He said the aim of the Welcome Back Tiger campaign was not promotional because it was only intended to help people “make a more informed decision, with their doctor, about the best treatment for them”.“Pfizer sees patient education as an important part of its contribution to the wellbeing of our community,” he said.
The Welcome Back Tiger website and pamphlet repetitively says: “See your doctor today!”
Pfizer’s first quarter 2005 Financial Performance Report says: “Additional growth opportunities
for this medicine [Viagra] are expected to result from … marketing efforts that encourage more men to see their healthcare provider”.
The Medicines Australia Code states that educational material about prescription medicines should never be promotional.
Ms Tait said the main problem with the pharmaceutical industry in Australia was that it relied on self-regulation.
She said consumers needed to be aware that often drug company education campaigns were aimed at selling a product rather than just supplying information.
“This is a slick way that pharmaceutical companies market their products,” Ms Tait said.
Prominent medical journalist Ray Moynihan, author of Selling Sickness: How The Drug Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients said on ABC Radio National he was concerned that “drug companies increasingly don’t just advertise drugs, they actively promote the diseases that go with them”.
Impotence Australia chief executive officer Brett McCann said there could be a fine line between education and promotion, but he believed the current erectile dysfunction information campaigns
focused on raising awareness and giving information rather than selling pills.
Impotence Australia was set up by a $200,000 grant from Pfizer and other sponsors, including Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, Research, drug companies differ over male impotence Christine Hopkins Education package … or promotion the drug companies that own the rights to erectile dysfunction drug Levitra.
The Impotence Australia website also uses the Western Australian research to claim that 39 per cent of men have problems with their erections.
The statistic is also repeated on the Connect ED website, which is an information network designed to help people with erectile dysfunction.
Connect ED is supported by educational grants from Eli Lilly Australia, a subsidiary of the company that owns the rights to erectile dysfunction drug Cialis.
Connect ED spokesperson Sarah Reed said Eli Lilly had contributed to the organisation by appointing external facilitators to organise meetings, and fielding calls that came into the information line.
Eli Lilly also uses the statistic in its current The Weekend erectile dysfunction information
The Eli Lilly information pamphlet says erectile dysfunction “is a problem for about 40 per cent of men”.
Eli Lilly spokesperson Rachel Harris said the company did not believe it was an incorrect use of research, as the phrasing of the statement in the pamphlet made it clear that it was an estimate based on the best available published study.
Ms Harris said the more recent research that put prevalence of erectile dysfunction at 25 per cent had not yet been published or peer reviewed.
“Lilly adheres strictly to the guidelines for marketing of pharmaceuticals in Australia,” Ms Harris said.
In the last two years, Pfizer and Eli Lilly have both been found to be in breach of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct for their educational erectile dysfunction campaigns.
The report says: “Additional growth opportunities for this medicine [Viagra] are expected to result from marketing efforts that encourage more men to see their healthcare provider”
Eli Lilly was found to be in breach of the code in 2003 because material on its Cialis product information website was misleading and not suffi ciently educational.
Last year, Eli Lilly was reprimanded again for specifically mentioning Cialis on its erectile dysfunction educational website at
Pfizer’s previous education website – – was also found to breach the code for specifically mentioning the product name Viagra.
In all these cases, the Code of Conduct Committee ordered the removal of the offending material, but did not impose a fine.
Healthy Skepticism Organisation chair Dr Jon Jureidini said Medicines Australia was an ineffective self-regulatory body without any power to impose significant sanctions.
Medicines Australia Director of Scientific and Technical Affairs Deborah Monk said the sanctions were effective because companies could be fined up to $200,000 and forced to run corrective advertising.
Ms Monk said she could not comment specifically on Pfizer or Eli Lilly’s erectile dysfunction education campaigns because she was unfamiliar with the current websites.
The Pfizer erectile dysfunction education website can be accessed at and the Eli Lilly site is at


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Email a Friend influence multinational corporations effectively, the efforts of governments will have to be complemented by others, notably the many voluntary organisations that have shown they can effectively represent society’s public-health interests…
A small group known as Healthy Skepticism; formerly the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing) has consistently and insistently drawn the attention of producers to promotional malpractice, calling for (and often securing) correction. These organisations [Healthy Skepticism, Médecins Sans Frontières and Health Action International] are small, but they are capable; they bear malice towards no one, and they are inscrutably honest. If industry is indeed persuaded to face up to its social responsibilities in the coming years it may well be because of these associations and others like them.
- Dukes MN. Accountability of the pharmaceutical industry. Lancet. 2002 Nov 23; 360(9346)1682-4.