Court finds Nurofen made misleading ‘specific pain’ claims

Take a walk around your local pharmacy or supermarket and you’ll see numerous different pain killing products all promising relief for various ailments like headaches or back pain. While some are quite modest in their descriptions, others come with rather more extravagant claims. However, things could be about to change.

The manufacturer of Nurofen is facing millions of dollars in fines after a court found some of its painkillers, marketed as targeting specific types of pain, were misleading to customers. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Reckitt Benckiser to the Federal Court over products in its Nurofen Specific Pain range, which are advertised as being specially formulated to treat either back pain, period pain, migraines or tension headaches.

The consumer watchdog argued that in reality, each of the products had exactly the same active ingredient – 342 milligrams of ibuprofen lysine – and that none were any better at treating one type of pain than other products in the range.

Reckitt Benckiser admitted that it had engaged in the contravening conduct and consented to the orders made by the court. Nurofen spokeswoman Montse Pena told Australian media that the company had not set out to mislead consumers.

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. Nurofen has co-operated with the ACCC in relation to these proceedings and will fully comply with the court order made today.”

The Nurofen Specific Pain product range consists of Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Period Pain, Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the painkillers were being sold at almost double the price of Nurofen’s standard ibuprofen products and the general pain relief products of its competitors.

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

Reckitt Benckiser faces a fine of up to $1.1 million per breach and Mr Sims said the ACCC was examining the judgement to determine how many breaches took place and what penalty it would argue for.

The company has been ordered to remove the products from retail shelves within three months. However, the ACCC has agreed to let it use the same packaging and product names for nine months after that – while it redesigns the products and has them approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration – provided a sticker is attached that discloses the products are equally effective at treating other types of pain.

The court also ordered Reckitt Benckiser to publish corrections on its website and in newspapers, implement a consumer protection compliance program and pay the ACCC’s court costs.

The news comes a couple of months after a Canstar Blue study found that 36% of Australians trust big name brand medicines more than cheaper, generic products. In addition, 27% believed big name brand were more effective. However, the vast majority (92%) believed that big brands and cheap alternatives generally include the same ingredients.

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