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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 32  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 171-172

Celebrity endorsements in medicine: who should be held liable?

Editor, Indian Journal of Urology, Department of Urology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication1-Jul-2016

Correspondence Address:
Rajeev Kumar
Editor, Indian Journal of Urology, Department of Urology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Ansari Nagar, New Delhi - 110 029
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0970-1591.185093

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How to cite this article:
Kumar R. Celebrity endorsements in medicine: who should be held liable?. Indian J Urol 2016;32:171-2

How to cite this URL:
Kumar R. Celebrity endorsements in medicine: who should be held liable?. Indian J Urol [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Mar 31];32:171-2. Available from:

The government of India recently mooted a proposal to hold celebrities responsible for the quality of products that they endorse.[1] The proposal of the parliamentary committee includes a possible monetary fine or prison term if the advertisements are misleading and the celebrity endorser would be held liable along with the manufacturer. The captain of the Indian cricket team was recently forced to withdraw his support as brand ambassador for a real estate developer when homebuyers protested on social media against the unfulfilled promises of the developer.[2] False or unsubstantiated advertising claims are often subject to judicial scrutiny and complainants stand to win monetary compensation if they do not derive the claimed benefit.[3]

How do these events relate to the practice of medicine? The reason they are relevant is that there seems to be an increasing trend of celebrity endorsement in our specialty. The celebrities in our case are not necessarily sportsmen or movie stars but often our own colleagues who have attained celebrity status within the specialty. It is no longer surprising to find a long list of “disclosures” before the beginning of a presentation at scientific meetings. While the disclosure itself is a step in the right direction, it does not take away from the fact that the existence of a large number of conflicts of interest is worrisome.[4] Being associated with commercial entities appears to have become a badge of honor - a mark of achievement and, when presenters with no disclosures state “regretfully none,” they are not always being sarcastic.

Commercial interests are integral to the growth of medicine. Innovations could not have occurred purely through public funding and denying the industry its right to profits would be shooting ourselves in the feet. Pharmaceutical and device manufacturers need the help of clinicians at every step, and the interdependence is bound to create conflicts of interest, not all of which are bad or detrimental to patient care.

The problem arises when these conflicts cloud out reality, and reputable clinicians turn into celebrity endorsers where entertaining opposing ideas to their stated results is anathema. The debate over the safety of calcium channel blockers is a case in point. In 1998, Stelfoxet al. reported that among authors who supported the use of calcium channel blockers, 96% had financial relationships with manufacturers of these drugs, whereas among critical authors, only 37% had such relationships.[5] Rarely is there an innovation whose benefits are unequivocal. For every paper that supports an idea, there is often one that questions it. The strength of an idea's validity lies in its replicability, not its novelty; a fact that was brought out very succinctly in a recent survey of adults, students, and researchers in the United States that found a greater reputational value for work that was “boring but certain.”[6]

To promote their new products to a community that seeks scientific validity, manufacturers rope in highly respected scientific peers whose word is likely to carry weight. They sponsor scientific events and surgical demonstrations with their celebrity endorsers as presenters and, after a time, the line between scientifically valid content and promotion is lost. An evening cocktail dinner where the speaker extols the virtue of the sponsor's product is very different from a scientific congress with a disclosure slide that is flashed for 20 seconds. This is where the need to hold such celebrities responsible for their endorsements becomes similar to that for face creams and real estate. Every individual has the right to their beliefs. However, when it comes to taking the pulpit at a scientific forum, the sermon must be balanced, particularly when the preacher is renowned and respected. Being wrong is acceptable but hiding the truth certainly should not be.

We urologists pride ourselves as being among the most technology friendly and innovative branches of medicine. We, thus, also have to be among the most critical. Unlike the lay public, physicians are trained in critical analysis and must be willing to question the wisdom behind such endorsements. Doing so may not only serve our patients better but also decrease the incentive behind creating celebrities.


The author would like to thank Dr. Nitin Kekre, Chairman - Indian Journal of Urology, for his insightful comments.

   References Top

Endorsers Face Jail for Misleading Ads. Available from: . [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 09].  Back to cited text no. 1
Sarkar J. Should Celebrities Endorse with Care? Available from: . [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 09].  Back to cited text no. 2
Sengupta A. All's Not Fair in Cream Hardsell-Emami Fined Rs 15 Lakh After Executive Feels Cheated. Available from: . [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 09].  Back to cited text no. 3
Hampson LA, Montie JE. Conflict of interest in urology. J Urol 2012;187:1971-7.  Back to cited text no. 4
Stelfox HT, Chua G, O'Rourke K, Detsky AS. Conflict of interest in the debate over calcium-channel antagonists. N Engl J Med 1998;338:101-6.  Back to cited text no. 5
Ebersole CR, Axt JR, Nosek BA. Scientists' reputations are based on getting it right, not being right. PLoS Biol 2016;14:e1002460.  Back to cited text no. 6


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