Hollywood Takes Action on Health
Celebrities are increasingly trying to raise awareness of a variety of health issues.
"There have been instances where celebrities -- and their agents -- have wanted certain fees to become involved with us, and we just don't have that kind of money. It would mean diverting funds away from something else -- and we won't do that," says Diane Tuncer, director of communications and media for the American Diabetes Association.
Moreover, Tuncer says that the ADA also isn't interested in creating a campaign around a celebrity or their publicity needs -- as some have suggested -- and says it won't change its agenda, even for big-name attention.
"If a celebrity's needs don't fit our priorities, we cannot divert from our focus; the disease and the research must always remain in the spotlight," she says.
Who's Picking Up the Tab?
In the name of helping deflect expenses away from some medical charities, pharmaceutical companies frequently volunteer to pick up the celebrity tab -- usually in exchange for a product endorsement. But experts say the ethical issues associated with this practice remain increasingly under fire.
The debate first came to public attention just a few years ago, when the normally reclusive actress Lauren Bacall suddenly became available to the nonpaying morning TV news shows. It was only after appearing on the Today Show -- where she discussed a friend's struggle with macular degenerationmacular degeneration and the drug that helped -- was it discovered that her appearance was handsomely underwritten by the drug company Novartis.
Since that time many media news outlets have started shutting doors in the face of celebrities on the payroll of drug companies, even when full disclosure is made.
"It is because celebrities are so powerful and influence so much of our thinking that it is wrong for them to take advantage of our trust by hawking the values of a certain treatment when other treatments, including lifestyle changes, may benefit us more," says Caplan.
So important is this issue, late last year the FDA convened a conference specifically to discuss issues related to celebrities paid by drug companies. Ironically, the meeting was called after what the Boston Globe describes as "months of criticism" from members of Congress and others worried that celebrity endorsements may mislead consumers on the safety and efficacy of some treatments.
The National Parkinson Foundation and The Alzheimer's Association tell WebMD that all their celebrity spokespeople work for free -- and most of the time even assume their own traveling expenses.
The Entertainment Industry Foundation -- whose many programs are sponsored by not only pharmaceutical companies but corporations like Revlon, QVC, People Magazine, Mercedes Benz and Lee Jeans -- insists that its celebrity "ambassadors" work for free as well.
"None of our celebrities are paid -- ever. They all do it from the heart," says Ketcik.
However, at least one talent agency -- The American Talent and Celebrity Network -- which represents celebrities like Linda Dano, Meredith Baxter Birney, Naomi Judd, Deborah Norville, Phylicia Rashad, Cokie Roberts, Suzanne Somers, Bob Dole, Paula Zahn, and Katie Couric -- lists fees for their health awareness speaking services ranging from $20,000 to over $100,000 per appearance.