INDIANAPOLIS — A health advocacy group that wanted to post billboards critical of drug maker Eli Lilly in its hometown says it couldn't find a billboard company willing to put up the message.
San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Action planned to pressure Lilly to discontinue the drug Posilac by posting billboards that read, "Eli Lilly is making us sick. Tell them to stop."
The group contends Posilac, which helps dairy cows produce more milk, contains a hormone that has been linked to cancer and is passed on to humans through milk. The recombinant bovine growth hormone — also known as rBGH or rVST — is barred as a health risk on dairy farms in Japan, Canada and Western Europe, the group says.
Lilly says the hormone, approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in 1993, is safe, and both Canada and Japan allow the import of milk from cows injected with the hormone.
"There is no scientific backing for their position," spokeswoman Joan Todd of Lilly's Elanco division said. "This is one of the most studied and restudied products on the market. Drinking milk does not increase the risk of breast cancer."
Angela Wall, spokeswoman for Breast Cancer Action, said at least 10 companies rejected the ad.
"We can't even get a public message out there in Indianapolis," Wall told The Indianapolis Star. "Who's holding the mouthpiece when it comes to national health?"
Lamar Advertising executive Chris Iverson said that when the health group approached officials about a billboard, they asked the group to defend its claim.
"We didn't feel they could stand behind their statement," he said.
The rejection of the ad doesn't come cheap. Billboard rates start at about $1,500 a month.
Billboard industry observers say it's rare for a company to turn down an ad, and those that are rejected are usually considered distasteful or pose legal risks.
Bruce Bryant, president of Promotus Advertising, told The Indianapolis Business Journal he understands why companies were leery of the anti-Lilly ad.
"With a statement that broad, where it could be damaging to Lilly as a second party without factual evidence presented, could be inflammatory," he said. "If you're making a claim against another company, the facts have to be presented."