Congress probes celebrity endorsers

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Congress is investigating the use of celebrity endorsements in pharmaceutical advertising—starting with a “celebrity doctor,” artificial heart inventor Dr. Robert Jarvik.

In a letter to Pfizer honcho Jeff Kindler, Michigan Democrats John Dingell, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, announced that they are looking into Pfizer's use of Dr. Jarvik in ads for Lipitor.

“We are concerned that consumers may misinterpret the health claims of a prescription drug promoted in a (DTC) advertisement utilizing a celebrity physician,” Dingell wrote, adding that consumers might also overestimate the qualifications of Dr. Jarvik “given that he may not be a practicing physician with a valid license in any state.”

Dr. Jarvik invented the Jarvik 7, the first successful permanent artificial heart, but is not a practicing physician.

The letter, dated Jan. 7, requested all records pertaining to the campaign and Pfizer's relationship with Dr. Jarvik, including financial records, contractual arrangements, correspondence and scripts for TV and print ads with Jarvik. The committee also requested “any records relating to the veracity of any claims made by Dr. Jarvik” in ads, “including but not limited to his use of Lipitor” and “all records relating to Dr. Jarvik's professional qualifications and why Pfizer chose him as their spokesman for Lipitor.” 

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