Drug maker feels pain of misleading claims

Reckitt Benckiser has been ordered to pull some of its Nurofen pain relief products from the Australian market after the Federal Court found its claims were misleading.
Reckitt Benckiser has been ordered to pull some of its Nurofen pain relief products from the Australian market after the Federal Court found its claims were misleading.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Drug giant Reckitt Benckiser was yesterday ordered to pull some of its popular Nurofen painkiller brands off the shelves in Australia after a court ruled they made misleading claims.

Australia's consumer watchdog took court action in March, disputing packaging claims that Nurofen Specific Pain products were formulated to treat different types of pain, when the active ingredient was identical.

The Federal Court ruled that the British-based multinational engaged in misleading conduct, with the main ingredient - 342 milligrams of ibuprofen lysine - the same in all the products, with none any better at treating one type of pain than others.

It ordered that Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Period Pain, Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache be removed from retail shelves within three months and packets amended. The court also ordered the company to pay the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) costs and publish online and newspaper corrections.

"We have known for years that they are all the same," a pharmacist in Sydney told Reuters. "We have been advising our customers to go for the standard painkiller, which is cheaper."

Nurofen specific pain relief products were sold at almost double the price of its standard painkiller, said three pharmacies in Sydney.

Nurofen denied it deliberately deceived consumers, but consented to the court orders.

"Nurofen did not set out to mislead consumers," spokesman Montse Pena said. "Nurofen has cooperated with the ACCC in relation to these proceedings and will fully comply with the court order."

The ACCC said the company took advantage of people's medical ignorance for profit.

"The ACCC took these proceedings because it was concerned that consumers may have purchased these products in the belief that they specifically treated a certain type of pain, based on the representations on the packaging, when this was not the case," chairman Rod Sims said.

"Truth in advertising and consumer issues in the health and medical sectors are priority areas for the ACCC, to ensure that consumers are given accurate information when making their purchasing decisions," he said.

Besides Nurofen, Reckitt Benckiser markets and supplies a range of consumer health and household brands in Australia, including Mortein, Clearasil, Finish, Airwick and Gaviscon.

A hearing will be held at a later undisclosed date to decide what fine the company faces.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Drug maker feels pain of misleading claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe