glaxo wittyGlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty wants to dial down the volume on what some see as some the drug industry’s more obnoxious habits.

During a visit to Health Blog HQ last week, Witty talked about his plans to cut Glaxo’s spending on TV advertising in the U.S. this year. He also repeated previous pledges to stop using company funds for political contributions, and to disclose payments Glaxo makes to doctors.

The larger aim is to raise the public’s estimation of Glaxo, and blunt the criticism that sometimes undermines Glaxo’s work, he said. “I want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can…so the ideas and products we bring are seen for what they are, and nothing gets in the way of that,” he told us.

Witty’s message comes as the whole drug industry makes a big PR push, hoping to burnish its image before the Democrats take over in Washington. The trade group PhRMA in recent months has gone on the offensive, offering to rein in company marketing practices, and financing TV ads that endorse “quality, affordable healthcare.”

There are vague spots and loopholes in some of Glaxo’s pledges. Witty wouldn’t say by how much Glaxo plans to cut its television advertising, for instance. Nor will Glaxo disclose its ad spending, a spokeswoman said, calling the information commercially sensitive.

On the political front, Glaxo is ending all corporate donations to candidates running for office, but employees are still free to contribute, including to a Political Action Committee financed and run by Glaxo employees in the U.S. The PAC, it so happens, is a much bigger spender than the company: in 2007, Glaxo as a company contributed £249,000 to U.S. campaigns, while the employee PAC contributed £522,172, according to Glaxo.

Glaxo’s payments to doctors were dragged into the open last year, when Emory psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff got into hot water for failing to fully disclose his Glaxo compensation. Witty told the Health Blog that he believes Glaxo did nothing wrong in the Nemeroff affair. But the company subsequently said it would start disclosing payments to doctors, and cap payments for each doc at $150,000 a year. Over time, Glaxo will aim to lower that cap, Witty told the Health Blog.

He acknowledges that questions about fees like that are natural. “We should be able to explain that,” he said, or otherwise not do it. If the company pays a physician, it should be for a legitimate service, he said.

Thanks to the Truthman.