FDA: Stop the birth control lies!

Yaz is sold as a cure for PMS, but it's not -- and drug regulators aren't amused.

Topics: Broadsheet, Health, Love and Sex,

Get this: Apparently advertisers sometimes target women with intentionally misleading advertisements — and, brace yourselves, pharmaceutical companies are among the major offenders. (And I thought Big Pharma was a good pal.) Bayer is the latest wrongdoer, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which on Tuesday released a warning letter sent to the company about “misbranding” in two TV spots for the birth control pill Yaz.

You’ve probably seen the ads. The first, which stopped running in 2007, starts by telling us: “We all know that birth control pills are 99 percent effective and can give you shorter, lighter periods. But did you know there’s a Pill that could do more? ” Then it shows women giving an upper cut and karate kick to words like “irritability” and “moodiness”– all to a pop remix of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The suggestion, of course, is that Yaz combats common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. The pill, however, is approved for treating premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a debilitating medical condition. Presumably, Bayer was hoping no one would pick up on the very significant difference between PMS and PMDD — but, what do you know, the FDA did! “The TV ads misleadingly suggest that Yaz is approved to treat women with any severity of the symptoms presented, regardless of whether their symptoms are actually severe enough to constitute PMDD,” the FDA wrote in its letter.

The second spot, which Bayer has agreed to pull, features tons of colorful balloons — bearing words like “bloating,” “irritability,” “fatigue,” “moodiness,” “increased appetite” and “acne” — being released above the heads of smiling young ladies strutting around a nondescript metropolis. One woman rocks out in her car — post-breakup style — to the ads’ theme song, “Goodbye to You.” The message: Dump that loser for Yaz — it will love you like PMS never did. Again, the FDA clarified, “such an elimination of symptoms has not been demonstrated by substantial evidence.” Pshh, evidence.

The ads also “suggest that Yaz is approved for acne of all severities when this is not the case,” and the FDA says the drug’s risks are not appropriately addressed. “These complex presentations distract from and make it difficult for viewers to process and comprehend the important risks being conveyed,” the letter reads. “This is particularly troubling as some of the risks being conveyed are serious, even life-threatening.” In other words, the peppy spots cheer “Empower yourself!” rather than screaming “Warning: Deadly blood clot risk!”

It’s nice to see the FDA finally catch on to the trend of advertising birth control pills as a lifestyle choice rather than, um, birth control. Now you go on the Pill because you want lighter, shorter periods or want to schedule menstruation around vacations and important meetings — or because it’s icky and you want to get rid of it altogether. You take it to clear your skin, regulate your appetite, eliminate cramps and reduce PMS. The uses actually approved for your chosen brand of birth control? Irrelevant.

I think Sarah Haskins said it best in her takedown of such ads: “Birth control is sold as period control. Why? I don’t know I am just a lady with a simple lady mind.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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