By Dan Olmsted
The population of the world is approaching 7.4 billion. The population of the U.S. (318 million) and New Zealand (around 5 million) combined is less than .4 billion, which means there are about seven billion people who don’t live in either country.
I envy every single one of them, at least when it comes to the fact that they are not bombarded by ads for prescription drugs.
I’ve just returned from Japan, where the only ads for medicine are over-the-counter pills and nostrums that, like the elixers, tonics (and snake oil) that predominated in 19th century America, are good for whatever ails you. Bursitis? Try this! Lumbago? Amazingly, this will work for that, too! Dispepsia, dipsomania, low energy, neurasthenia? Ditto. I snapped the accompanying photo on a subway in Tokyo, and the various grimaces on the faces of the actors point to the all-purpose nature of the remedy. It reminded me of Geritol, which some of you may remember from the Ted Mack Amateur Hour and elsewhere.
Compare and contrast those nostrums with the highly targeted, hugely expensive pharma products in the U.S. Good Lord, are they irritating! My current least favorite is for Namzaric, for “mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.” The TV ad tries to thread the needle by showing a lovely older woman with her caring, concerned family, Mom looking discombobulated but not disheveled, which in the TV universe would be far worse!
In Tokyo, CNNj – an international version of the U.S.-based network – runs ads, but not pharmaceutical ones. In Kyoto, which simply broadcasts the U.S. version of CNN, during ads the screen goes to weather, stocks and currency data while a relentlessly banal tune plays that soon gets in your head. (It’s not a bad way to drift off, sans medication.) Either way, you’re spared pharma’s version of the world.
There are plenty of those aches and pains ads, and I doubt most of those treatments do much, but at least they probably don’t kill you or cause autism. And there may be a strong placebo effect from taking something with beautiful Japanese characters on it.
The advancing age and declining number of Japanese (the current population of 127 million is expected to fall to 87 million by 2060, with almost 40 percent of them over 65 and in even more need of tonics to relieve their aches and pains) has led to an effort to boost the population.
Recently, according to an account I read in the Japan Times, a government health agency got a little overzealous. It put out sex ed material suggesting that the age of 22 was the best year for a woman to give birth. Turns out, as you might imagine, there is no “best year” for a woman to give birth, and the government has now backtracked.
But that kind of manipulation in the service of state and corporate interests is nothing compared to the relentless bombardment of prescription drug ads back home. It creates an environment in which drugs are presumed to be the treatment of first resort for everything from erectile dysfunction to needing to pee too much (now conveniently treated in one pill!) to getting a new knee. Then come the ads for the defective knee replacements, lawsuits, etcetera, a virtuous circle as far as media revenues are concerned, a vicious one for people with bad knees.
It mutes Big Media when it comes to questioning the effects of these drugs, especially the vaccines that are clearly implicated in the rise of autism.
It quiets Congress, which should be hearing from people like William Thompson about the CDC’s malfeasance in studying the MMR, as well as other drugs.
Once, in a conversation with TV journalist Robert MacNeil, Mark Blaxill said he believed that banning pharma advertising was an important step in restoring sanity. “And cut off their heroin?” MacNeil responded in a tone that suggested the networks would never give up their fix.