Nurofen feels pain over medicine claim

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DRUG-MAKER Reckitt Benckiser is facing millions of dollars in fines after a court found it misled consumers over claims Nurofen could target different kinds of pain.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took the company to the Federal Court in March this year alleging it had made false and misleading claims in marketing its Nurofen Specific Pain range, on the packaging and on its website.

Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Period Pain, Nurofen Migraine Pain, and Nurofen Tension Headache, which were nearly double the price of Nurofens standard ibuprofen products, were marketed as treating specific kinds of pain, when in fact the products are identical.

Reckitt Benckiser admitted it had contravened the law. The court has ordered the products be removed from retail shelves within three months. Interim packaging will clearly disclose to consumers that the products are equally effective for other forms of pain.

The court has also ordered that Reckitt Benckiser publish website and newspaper corrective notices, implement a consumer protection compliance program, and pay the ACCCs costs.

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, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

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. Any representations which are difficult for a consumer to test will face greater scrutiny from the ACCC.

A hearing on penalty will be held at a future date. The company could be facing fines of up to $1.1 million per offence, and Mr Sims earlier told the ACCC would be seeking the maximum possible penalty.

It could amount to quite a severe penalty, he said in March. Where we have large companies like Coles, Woolworths and Reckitt Benckiser, we judge that these penalties need to be sizeable and need to be seen to be sizeable so you have the deterrence effect.

This whole truth in advertising drive requires a few big penalties, to be blunt, so that company directors sit up and take notice so they focus on what their marketing people are doing. Marketing people have a lot of temptations to cross the line, and they need to understand its not good for business or their balance sheet.

In a statement, Nurofen spokeswoman Montse Pena said the company did not set out to mislead consumers.

Nurofen has co-operated with the ACCC in relation to these proceedings and will fully comply with the court order made today, she said. The Nurofen specific-pain range was launched with an intention to help consumers navigate their pain relief options, particularly within the grocery environment where there is no healthcare professional to assist decision making.

The packaging around our food protects the food and makes it look good, but sometimes it misleads us, and some plastic packaging contains potentially harmful chemicals that can pass into our food.