Why Do These Commercials For Chantix Not Mention The Drug? At All?

Our sister publication Consumer Reports Health has posted a new video in their AdWatch series, which examines direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. This time they’re examining some “stealth” advertising for the quit-smoking drug Chantix.

CRH says that Chantix is an effective drug — but its commercials never mention its name. Why not? Well, no one knows — but what we do know is that if you mention the drug you have to mention the side effects — and the side effects of Chantix are pretty serious.

Last year, the drug’s label was updated to include a warning about potential psychiatric effects of the drug which include “changes in behavior, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and attempted and completed suicide”— and CRH says that the FAA has actually banned pilots from taking the drug because of the severity of these potential side effects.

So if you see an advertisement that looks like a PSA, stop and think.

CRH says:

When you see an ad or Web site with that PSA-like tone, listen or look to see who’s sponsoring it. If it’s a drug company, and you decide to visit the site, realize that the information, however useful, is there to help promote a drug. And be wary of the interactive options that these sites offer. For example, a Share Your Story section on the FibroCenter site requires you to sign a release basically allowing Pfizer to change your whole story to make it more “commercially viable.” So much for an authentic online community.

As far as Chantix goes, about a year ago, New York Magazine had an interesting first person account from someone who had a bad experience with the drug.

The most unsettling thing about sleeping on Chantix is that I never felt like I was truly asleep. Some part of me remained on guard. It was more like lucid dreaming, what I thought it might feel like to be hypnotized. And it didn’t entirely go away come morning. As I showered, shaved, and scrambled into clothes, I tried to shake a weird, paranoid sense that I’d just been psychically raped by a household appliance.

Mental air conditioner rape aside… it did help him quit smoking, before he started hallucinating and smashed up his entire apartment. Chantix isn’t for everyone, it seems.

Pfizer and Chantix: Stealth advertising at its finest [Consumer Reports Health]

Comments

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  1. se7a7n7 says:

    I should ask my doctor if Chantix is right for me.

  2. VOIDMunashii says:

    I like lucid dreaming. Maybe I should start smoking so I can get some of this.

    I’m not big into appliance rape though, so maybe not.

  3. bohemian says:

    There is an asthma version of these faux self help ads. I think it was for Advair. Advair is one of those with some nasty side effects they failed to mention until after it was on the market. Like that it can make your asthma more reactive and more likely to give you a major attack than other drugs.

    The faux fibromyalgia website is promoting a drug that has a high incidence of causing suicidal behavior. Of course they don’t mention this to people when handing it out like candy.

  4. Vanilla5 says:

    Can this whole “lucid dreaming” thing be good for you? Does that mean your body doesn’t get to hit REM sleep? Not healthy.

    Plus, I imagine they don’t mention it’s a drug b/c of how friggin difficult it is to actually quit smoking for good. I’d like to see some true relapse numbers after 1 year of using Chantix.

    • embean says:

      @Vanilla5: lucid dreaming means you ARE in REM sleep. you can’t dream without being in REM sleep.

    • Anonymous says:

      @Vanilla5:You wrote: ” Plus, I imagine they don’t mention it’s a drug b/c of how friggin difficult it is to actually quit smoking for good. I’d like to see some true relapse numbers after 1 year of using Chantix.”

      It’s been two years for me. I quit by using Chantix. I’d tried the patch, nicotine gum, cold turkey, youi name it. Nothing worked. But Chantix did. I didn’t experience any side effects. My husband quit at the same time, using Chantix. He didn’t experience any side effects either. For us, it was positive and successful.

      • Anonymous says:

        @BonnibelElpis: Interestingly thats the only comment you have ever actually made here. I find it amazing how people join a website to post a testimonial about the very drug under discussion as their first (and i suspect only post).

        This is a drug that has a raft of nasty side effects including suicides, diabetic onset, linkages with car accidents, Chantix is actually an Anti Depressant class drug in pretty much all respects hence its increased suicidality and other common AD side effects.

      • RedwoodFlyer says:

        @BonnibelElpis:

        Protip: the next time you want to shill…try making random comments on some other post first. It just looks odd when your only comment is one praising 4Chantix. I find it hard to believe that an ordinary intertuber would sign up for a commenting account just to make the lame post you did.

  5. invisiblenemies says:

    I just stopped taking Chantix after completing 2 weeks of the treatment. Very strange side effects. The first few days weren’t too bad – crazy dreams though. After the first week, you start to take the full dose of the medication – that’s when the weirdness starts.

    Days 8-15: I found myself becoming increasingly apathetic. I was never fully awake – constant Zombie mode. Did nothing but work and sleep. I generally slept 12+ hours a day.

    It took 5 days after I stopped taking the meds to be completely void of side effects.

    Fun times.

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @invisiblenemies: Would you say it messes you up enough that driving while on it would be unsafe?

    • HogwartsAlum says:

      @invisiblenemies:

      I had none of these side effects. Just nausea for the first three days, and a weird feeling for the next two that I was aware of the receptors in my brain. Then that went away and I felt perfectly normal. No weird dreams even. (Well, my dreams are pretty weird anyway.)

      It’s been almost a year and I haven’t smoked. That’s not to say I still don’t WANT to, but I haven’t done it.

    • zark169 says:

      @invisiblenemies: I’m getting the feeling that the drug sometimes blocks an area of your brain from resting during sleep that actually needs the rest. Sort of like a super specific type of sleep deprivation, which can also cause psychotic episodes.

  6. ludwigk says:

    After staying awake for about 2 straight days doing school work, I had a paranoid delusion that a bag of “Gold Medal Flour” sitting on the counter was going to get me. Not the flour itself, but the shadows around the bag. I had this overwhelming fear that if I stopped looking at it, demons would come out of the shadows and get me, so I stood there staring at the bag of flour for like 15 minutes while I heard whispering voices all around me. So yeah, I totally get mental appliance rape.

    Jamie Hirsh has rather endearing midwestern accent, and she sounds like she has braces for some reason. I think its totally cute!

  7. facted says:

    This article, and past medical articles on consumerist, are why this blog should stay away from the topic. I assume no one from the editing team is a physician and therefore should not be giving advice on medications and their “side effects”.

    I do not propose that Chantix is such an amazing drug, but among the side effects mentioned, abnormal dreaming = 10% of patients and insomnia 18%. The drug does not cause delusions or paranoia.

    Now considering how effective the drug is in terms of stopping people from smoking, and it’s relatively short term use, it’s side effects profile is quiet tolerable compared to years of cigarette use (heart attacks, strokes, cancers, etc…)

    • Corporate_guy says:

      @facted: It sounds like the effects are the same as chaining yourself down for a few weeks to physically prevent yourself from smoking. You are just trading the chains for hallucinations.

      So you think it’s ok for drug companies to advertise only the positive effects, but wrong for the consumerist to point out the negative side effects? Why?

    • Vanilla5 says:

      @facted: 10% and 18% are BIG numbers in terms of clinical relevance.

      I don’t believe the purpose of posting this is to deter people from taking Chantix to quit smoking (although some stories here would definitely make me think twice), but to highlight how drug companies get away with marketing their product without full disclosure of what it can do to your body. They know that people desperately try to quit smoking all the time – many unsuccessfully – and showing them the good without the creepy bad stuff will make them more likely to go for it.

      “changes in behavior, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and attempted and completed suicide”

      These are very, very serious side effects – even in numbers less than 10%.

    • lightaugust says:

      @facted: You’ve got a point about steering clear of medical advice, but this is about a company marketing a product, and in doing so, skirts the spirit of a law intended to protect the consumer.

    • Beerad says:

      @facted: Admittedly, the anonymous anecdotal evidence one reads on the internet should be taken for what it’s worth, but I’d sure like to consider any and all sources of information and weigh them myself.

      Or are you suggesting that Big Pharma (or any huge industry, or the government) would certainly never lie/manipulate results/be wrong about anything?

    • Anonymous says:

      @facted: The drug does not cause delusions or paranoia? How on earth can you make this statement and still sleep at night? You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

      For me, the scope of the Chantix side-effects were pretty damn close to delusional. I’m 40 years old and, before taking this awful medication, I never had panic attacks in my entire life. Within days of taking the drug, I experienced debilitating panic attacks and went through clinically diagnosed major depression. Within days of going off the drug, the panic attacks evaporated and I managed to climb out of my depression.

      So… for some, Chantix does work well with limited or no side effects. For others, it is an incredibly nasty drug. Taking it is like medical Russian Roulette. Have fun with that.

    • invisiblenemies says:

      @facted: Short term use? The recommended dosing is essentially 2 pills a day for 84 weeks.

    • Mary Marsala with Fries says:

      @facted: Hi, shill! Nice to meet you. Unfortunately, your proposal that drug companies be allowed to say whatever they like on public airways, without having to face even digital textual criticism, will have to wait until society gets significantly more repressive in order to be realistically actionable. Thank you for trying, though.

  8. Peter Nincompoop says:

    “The most unsettling thing about sleeping on Chantix is that I never felt like I was truly asleep. Some part of me remained on guard. It was more like lucid dreaming, what I thought it might feel like to be hypnotized. And it didn’t entirely go away come morning. As I showered, shaved, and scrambled into clothes, I tried to shake a weird, paranoid sense that I’d just been psychically raped by a household appliance.”

    10 years later, Beck finally reveals how he conceived the idea for his 1999 video, “Sexx Laws”:

  9. Landru says:

    ideation??? doublespeak for “thoughts”

    “To form an idea of; imagine or conceive”

  10. themicah says:

    FDA regulations require drug companies to mention the side effects if they talk about the benefits of a drug. There are two ways around this: one is to talk about the ailment but not mention the name of the drug. The other, which was exemplified by those baffling Claritin ads of the mid-90s(talk about lucid dreams!), is to mention the name of the drug over and over again, but not ever mention what it was for. See., e.g.:

  11. nerdovision says:

    Hello Everyone,
    My wife was finally able to kick the habit before she got pregnant with our now first born beautiful baby girl, so I thought I’ll share the resource that she has used to help her quit the smoking habit with as many people as I can.
    She was a heavy smoker for about ten years and just a couple of weeks after finding out about the program that I have researched online, she was able to quit smoking permanently and now can’t stop telling people about how she had kicked the habit for good.
    Anyway if you want to check it out, here is the site that my wife has used to help her quit smoking; http://www.invisismoke.com

  12. Brett Grane says:

    I’ve been on Chantix for 2 months now and it definitely has helped me quit smoking.

    Only side effects I’ve had are upset stomach (be sure to take with milk or food) and intense dreams. No nightmares though.

    If you’re looking for a way to quit, check it out.

  13. embean says:

    I don’t think Canadian pharmaceutical companies are technically allowed to “advertise” drugs up here. I am used to incredible vague drug commercials.

  14. bohemian says:

    What probably made it worse for some people was that they were not informed of the scary dreams and hallucinations. Mr. Bohemian was one of the early people to use this when it came out. The pharmacy didn’t mention those side effects and neither did the doctor. If it was in the literature it was buried in one of those white sheets that pharmacies rarely give the patients. Someone else who had taken it relayed they had the same side effects. That would have to be really disturbing to have dreams and hallucinations not knowing you might or what is causing them.

  15. AmbroseP says:

    The “stealth” DTC ads used by gargantuan pharmaceutical companies are not a recent phenomenon.

    The editor over at the Consumer Reports blog is spot on with their short blurb:

    “Help-seeking ads can come in handy for drugs that have a particularly nasty list of side effects, since not mentioning the drug by name means you don’t have to list the side effects either, according to the U.S Food and Drug Administration.”

    Aside from not having to mention side effects, pharmaceutical companies almost always strategically leave out their drug names when they are the market leader/innovator (i.e. the patent is still alive and kicking).

    Remember the “ask about the purple pill” ads? This is no different.

  16. bstewart23 says:

    I took Champix — as it’s known in Canada — last year. After two days, I stopped smoking outright, even though I had a few more days of puffing available on my schedule. After 6 days, I stopped taking the drug and haven’t smoked since.

    Why the abbreviated regimen? I had no anxiety attacks or sleeplessness. Yes, it was the dreams. I don’t ever want to have another one of those insanely fucked-up dreams, like, ever again. Alejandro Jodorowsky movies seem like Mister Rogers Neighborhood in comparison.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been on it for about 2 months and quit smoking in the second week. I’ve smoked for 15 years and this is the only thing that works. Period. I took it for a few weeks last year but I wasn’t committed. This time I was.

    I did have crazy dreams for the first few weeks but then I started taking it earlier in the evening and they went away for the most part. The worst is the stomach upset but if you eat a meal right after you take it it’s not so bad.

    I too read a lot of crazy things online before I took it which scared me but the patch, gum, and anti-depressants did nothing. This worked for me and I’m glad it did.

  18. Hiyall says:

    I took Chantix for three weeks and the only side effect I had was being really tired. I quit smoking after the first week and quit the Chantix after the third week. I’ve been smoke free for 1 year , 3 months, 2 weeks, 1 day and 20 hours and have saved 1895 dollars according to my silkquit meter. I tired to quit many times in the past and Chantix really helped me.

    • RedwoodFlyer says:

      @Hiyall:

      You’re the exception to the rule of Chantix praisers only having one post…looks like you shilled for in on Jez. as well..

  19. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Oh god.. My ex-boyfriend already slept walked on his own. Doesn’t sound like Chantix is the right drug for him either!

  20. tankertodd says:

    So you quit smoking but in the process go crazy and kill yourself. Man, there just isn’t pleasing some people.

  21. Gerald Ward says:

    I quit smoking 17 months ago via Chantix. My dreams were somewhat strange and “vivid” while using the drug, though I must say the most annoying side effect was constipation…talk about compounding the difficulties of quitting.

    All in all, I have to admit that without the drug (at least psychologically) I could not have quit…I tried several time cold turkey and I always relapsed.

    Nowadays I never feel the urge to smoke, though it does pop into my head every now and then…it helps to stay a non-smoker when you find the smell of smokers to be vile and you have a 2.5 year old kid to impress/keep form asking awkward questions.

  22. Blueskylaw says:

    Suicide – There’s no future in it.

  23. pollyannacowgirl says:

    Another reason I’m so grateful for my children. I quit cold turkey the minute I found out I was pregnant. Wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.

    Aside from a few Tylenol a year, I don’t take ANY drugs. I’ve had bad experiences with nearly everything I’ve ever taken, which hasn’t been much anyway (BC pills, Demerol for an outpatient procedure, novocaine). I’d have to be DYING with a guarantee of success before I’d take a newly-released drug. It’s not a personal judgment against anyone who does, but I don’t trust the FDA anymore. The whole pharma industry and the government agency that “regulates” it is corrupt and criminal.

  24. working class Zer0 says:

    I took Chantix and was able to quit. I found it very effective. I would not however want to use it again due to the side effects I experienced such as changes in behavior,agitation, losing the ability to focus for more then a few seconds and upset stomach (minor). I didn’t have the lucid dreams or suicidal stuff going on.
    Funny thing is the doctor told me there were no side effects but I had already researched it and knew better so I was prepared for them.

  25. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    I’m on the Chantix now, second time around. I was off cigarettes for over a year, but then cheated because I thought I could get away with it – nope.

    So here, I’m starting it again. 5 days in right now, and the dreams are getting wilder by the night! Woo-hoo!

    When my doctor examined me and started to go through the side effects, he turned off his game face for a moment, stepped back and said: “You know, I know you’re one of those that had a pretty wild youth. Be honest with me, have you ever tried hallucinogenic drugs?”

    Me: “Uhh..well…uhh… *sheepish* yeah…”

    Dr: “Ok – did you handle it well?”

    Me: “Well if you mean did I do anything exceptionally stupid while on it, no I was quite responsible outside of taking the drugs themselves and knew the difference between the high and reality.”

    Dr: “Good. This stuff (Chantix) is going to bring you back to those days a bit. Enjoy the buzz and don’t be a dumbass.”

  26. orias says:

    I used Chantix for 2 weeks to help me quit. I had some interesting dreams, but the only negative side effect I encountered was CRANKINESS… But then again, any smoker would be cranky if their cigs weren’t working… 9 months later and I have yet to even want to smoke another cigarette. My wife still smokes around me- but I’m done. Given a choice, I’d take it again, (but I’d warn everyone close to me that I was about to become the biggest douche for the next 2 weeks)….

  27. oregongal says:

    Or be tough, suck it up and quit cold turkey. I did nearly 5 years ago. Nowadays the smell alone can make my head spin and stomach turn. I smoked over a pack a day for 30+ years. Hell if I can do it anyone can!

    • IT-Chick says:

      @oregongal:

      Good for you, however everyone has different hormones and receptors. Quitting smoking can be more difficult for some than others.
      The drugs help to get through the initial withdrawal period until the hormones in a smoker return to that of a non-smoker. They aren’t meant to be forever or mask the problem.

  28. Alice Arrington Radley says:

    I feel like my husband and I must have been very lucky, or it isn’t as bad as it’s made out. We took it over a year and a half ago, for a period of about 2 months. We quit smoking in the second week. Neither of us had any side effects and have been smoke free ever since. We’ve saved over $5000 and couldn’t be happier.

  29. wiley14 says:

    Keep in mind, even if one person has a bad reaction to a drug – they have to put it in their ads.

    Just about every single drug out there has “freaky” side effects.

    BTW – I took Chantix for about three weeks and stopped(I forgot to take the pill and realized I was OK – I didn’t need it anymore). It was 1000x better than cold turkey or the patch (which gave me wild nightmares and soreness where I had it).

  30. Anonymous says:

    I had a roommate take this drug. He turned into a violent threatening lunatic in two weeks. He would fly into fits of rage at the drop of a hat, as well as becoming paranoid. I eventually had to call the police. The drug is dangerous!!!

  31. Anonymous says:

    I just want to report my experience, as a counterpoint to the comments implying Chantix must be some kind of toxic suicide concoction just because it has some unusual side effects.

    If it were up to me the makers of Chantix would get the freakin’ Nobel prize. After years of struggling, I am completely smoke free, and it is because of Chantix.

    Former 2 pack/day x 25 years smoker. I was captain of the smoking team. I got out of bed in the middle of the night to smoke. My previous attempts to quit were more unbearable than my divorce. But Chantix flipped a switch and enabled me to stop.

    I had some side effects on Chantix, but they were a cakewalk compared to the anger/irritability/despondeny/hopelessness/mental confusion/weight gain I went through in previous attempts to quit without it.

    Yeah, the Chantix dreams were horrible. As horrible as lung cancer? Not even close.

    Chantix saved my life. Literally. If I am alive 30 years from now, it will be because of Chantix. I wish I could find out what marketing person was responsible for getting the information about Chantix into my awareness, so I could wash their car and take them out for milkshakes. The drug was expensive. But sometimes I feel like sending them more money and telling them they didn’t charge me enough for how much it helped me.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t work for all smokers. If it doesn’t work for you or someone you care about, well, I’m sorry about that. But from my experience the drug is a bona fide miracle.

  32. gman863 says:

    A local TV station did a story about a guy who – after taking Chantix for a few weeks – freaked out and committed suicide. According to a doctor interviewed in the story, alcohol (even just one beer or glass of wine) consumed within a few hours either way of taking Chantix greatly increases the chance of mental side effects.

    I tried Chantix over a year ago. It only worked because it’s hard to smoke when you feel like you’re gonna recreate Linda Blair’s vomiting scene in The Exorcist for hours at a time.

  33. Anonymous says:

    As a 30+ year smoker, I tried Chantix a couple of years ago. I stopped smoking for over 6 mths but eventually started back again. The dreams WERE vivid (ex: one of my last ones was giant thumbs chasing me) and odd, but the stuff does works. I started back after I had stopped the medication. Also, insurance doesn’t cover it and its $125/mth.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Dry mouth, so far. Sometimes I wonder why I am about to pick up a cig. in the first place. Ashtrays reek now. No, I am not anti-smoking. Choose to quit, Chantix is doing the job well. Am putting $30 in my vacation jar a week now. Incentive, oh yeah………..

  35. Adam Hummel says:

    I am a huge advocate for Chantix. It helped me quit in a months time. I just stopped having urges. Sure i had side effects of being thirsty all the time, but drink plenty of water and thats all taken care of. The only other side affect I had was some really crazy and vivid dreams for the first 2 weeks. After that period lapsed I kind of missed the dreams. Anyway, I recommended this product to a half dozen co-workers/friends and all had successes just as mine with only similar side affects.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I found Chantix to be nothing short of a wonder drug. It totally worked for me…after 25 years of smoking a pack/day, never having quit successfully before. Other than some nausea lasting about 5-10 minutes after taking the pill (twice/day), no side affects. None of the sleeplessness, anxiety, etc. I kept smoking about 3-4 weeks longer than the directions advised, but when I stopped completely – whammo! it was like I was instantaneously a non-smoker. And it’s been that way for 7 months now…no urges whatsoever. Not even mild urges to smoke. I don’t feel like an ‘ex-smoker,’ either…I feel like that part of my brain/psyche/sould that caused me to smoke and made me keep smoking is gone, and gone for good. Yippee!!

  37. Aphex242 says:

    I agree the advertising sucks, but I used the stuff to kick a 15 year, 2 pack a day habit, when everything else, patch, cold turkey, gum, whatever didn’t work.

    While I guess some people have fairly serious side effects, I never experienced any. I say don’t believe the hype.

  38. Bryan Zeski says:

    My wife successfully quit smoking with Chantix. She did have lucid dreams (not bad) and was nauseous and tired until she found just the right dosage. She was not depressed and did not go crazy. She quit last April after 18 years of smoking and hasn’t gone back since.

  39. Anonymous says:

    When my mother was on this drug she was outwardly emotional, absolutely psychotic. My dad called me one night telling me if he went missing it was because my mother killed him in his sleep. It helped her quit smoking, but in the end she stopped taking the drug for her behaviors. Still smoking.

  40. tworld says:

    The FDA is a total farce. The other night I watched a drug commercial that had the usual low voice telling you all the side effects, and one was actually, “death.”

    This drug we’re allowed to take, but marijuana is against the law!!!!

    Friends, we are doomed.

  41. meechybee says:

    The FDA writes regulation? Get out of here…

  42. Hiyall says:

    I just have to reply to this. I very seldom log on. Quiting smoking was a big deal to me and this stuff helped. No Shill here ComcastRedwoodFlyer, I just don’t post that much. I have one other post that I said I liked a certain brand of paint, I’m I shilling for them too? If I was a Chantix shill I would have posted to take it for 3 months, and not the three WEEKS I had to take. Have a nice day, week, year chasing shillers.