One of our readers tipped us off to what he called “a new poster child for overtreatment.” We’ll call it disease-mongering.
It’s the website of the drug company promoting Zicam.
The new pitch promotes Zicam for “pre-colds.”
What’s a Pre-Cold?, the website asks, anticipating our astute question.
Well, as you can see, it’s a term that the drug company trademarked – they thought it was that clever.
Their definition of their trademarked term on their website: :
We’re glad you asked. You know that first sniffle, sneeze or cough? That throat tickle, ache or unexplained tiredness? The “uh-oh” stage before you get a full-blown monster of a cold? That’s a Pre-Cold.
Know your first signs
We all have our own Pre-Cold signs. They’re the ones we usually ignore and hope will just go away. That’s when you’ll find the Cold Monster waiting to pounce.
For some people it’s an itchy, scratchy throat or a runny nose. For others it’s uncommon body aches or watery eyes. Whatever your first signs, the next time you have them, take Zicam® within the first 24 hours. It’s a completely different kind of medicine that’s clinically proven to shorten a cold.
Yes, we ALL have signs of this monstrous pre-disease. So we are ALL potential customers. And we should ALL start buying and using this product at the first sign – making all of us worried “patients” for a few extra days. Or is it just a few? The span of Pre-colds is, conveniently, never defined. We could take this throughout the year!
Since we like to look at the combined impact of advertising, marketing, public relations and “journalism” messages, we took note of the website’s “News and Events” tab, and how they were proud of how “Zicam® gets a monster of an endorsement in Men’s Health Magazine.” Not quite a Pulitzer-winning example of evidence-based health care journalism.
Let’s get to the claims in the ads and on the website. “Clinically proven to shorten a cold.” I spent quite a bit of time looking all over the website for any data to back up that claim. I found a list of other products, a coupon offer, stores in my area that carry it, a Cold Monster Tracker, some user testimonials, “media buzz” – but no data.
I loved this passage in the site’s FAQ section:
Is Zicam® regulated by the FDA?
The active ingredients in all Zicam® Cold Remedy products – zinc gluconate and zinc acetate – are listed as drugs in the Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS) which is a compendium recognized in the Federal Food, Drug, Cosmetic Act [FD&C Act]); as such, these products are classified by the FDA as OTC homeopathic drugs. All Zicam® products are sold over-the-counter in accord with FDA’s guidelines.
I looked around a bit further and found what anyone could find online – that, yes, indeed, there are studies suggesting some possible benefits of zinc. There were also stories that poked holes in some of the claims for over-the-counter zinc products or which reminded readers that the FDA warned consumers to stop using Zicam nasal sprays and swabs a while back.
Let’s not lose sight of some important context: the common cold is usually self-limiting, often lasting only about a week, with usually mild symptoms. Any messages that try to convince all of us to buy a product – without citing evidence – for something that usually goes away on its own in a about a week…well, caveat emptor as you run from the Cold Monster.