Brits call American pharmaceutical ads 'post-apocalyptic'

British people questioned why Americans can advertise for medicine during Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's bombshell interview Sunday night. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

British people cannot wrap their heads around American advertising for prescription drugs. 

British viewers took to Twitter during Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's bombshell interview with Oprah last night to question why pharmaceutical companies advertise directly to viewers.

Ayesha A. Siddiqi, trend forecaster, writer, and editor at The New Inquiry, compiled a Twitter thread cataloging tweets by Brits who called advertising for prescription drugs "wild," "surreal," and "dark." The thread shocked Americans, for whom drug ads on TV are routine.

"American adverts make me feel like I'm in some post-apocalyptic world," one tweet read.

"American medical adverts are some real dystopian s*** how you gonna tell me I might die," read another.

The US and New Zealand are the only two countries that allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers.

Siddiqi said she noticed Brits she followed talking about pharmaceutical ads during the broadcast, and decided to show her American followers how "banal," common drug advertisements could be worth questioning.

"One of the most interesting recurrences in the British reactions to American live TV was shock at the idea of 'advertising medicine' — to have even phrased it that way was so conspicuously not American," Siddiqi told Insider in an email. "In the US people are tasked with being informed customers, rather than simply beneficiaries of a healthcare system — with all the inequalities of access that implies."

The health industry spends $30 billion on ads and promotions annually, according to an analysis out of Dartmouth College. Pharma companies have expanded beyond television to social media ads and celebrity partnerships.

Pharma ads are controversial even in the US. In 2015, the American Medical Association — the country's largest physician trade group — called to ban drug ads

The Food and Drug Administrations allowed drug makers to run ads in 1985, according to STAT. After the agency relaxed regulations around the advertising in the late 1990s, spending for direct-to-consumer advertising swell from from $360 million in 1995 to $5 billion in 2006.

Critics of drug ads have asked the FDA for greater regulation, calling to stop firms from running distracting music and animations. The FDA states if a drug maker overstates the drug's benefits or misrepresents the data in an advertisement, the agency can ask to the company to remove or re-publish it.

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