Nurofen painkillers to be pulled from Australian shelves over misleading claims

The products were advertised as treating specific types of pain, despite having the same ingredients.

The products were advertised as treating specific types of pain, despite having the same ingredients.

Claims Nurofen painkillers treat specific types of pain are misleading, Australia has found, while in New Zealand a probe continues.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took Reckitt Benckiser to the Federal Court over products in its Nurofen specific-pain range, which are advertised as being specially formulated to treat back pain, period pain, migraines or tension headaches.

The court found 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.

"Nurofen specific-pain products were being sold at retail prices almost double that of Nurofen's standard ibuprofen products and the general pain relief products of its competitors," ACCC 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."

The court found that Reckitt Benckiser had made misleading claims on the products' packets and on its website and ordered it to remove the products from retail shelves within three months.

The products will return for sale with new packaging agreed on with the ACCC that discloses that the products are equally effective at treating other types of pain.

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The court also ordered the company, which admitted it had engaged in the illegal conduct, to publish corrections on its website and in newspapers, implement a consumer protection compliance program and pay the ACCC's court costs.

In New Zealand, the Commerce Commission was still investigating the issue, with the cooperation of Nurofen manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser, and could not give more comment while the investigation continued.

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Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said products marketed as targeting specific areas for pain, such as nurofen, were "totally misleading".

"These products don't have anything special in them, yet they charge higher prices for them," Chetwin said.

Her advice for consumers was to shop around.

"Buy on price because they've all got the same stuff in them."

Nurofen spokeswoman Montse Pena said the company had not set out to mislead consumers. 

"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," she said. 

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

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

In 2013 drug watchdog The Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code Council ruled that Reckitt Benckiser could no long sell Nurofen in Australia under those names, and must withdraw advertisements claiming they can go straight to the source of pain.

The decision followed two separate complaints about the way the products were advertised.

"The advertisement was likely to encourage inappropriate or excessive use of the advertised products, particularly in the case of a consumer experiencing more than one type of pain," the decision read.

At that time Reckitt Benckiser New Zealand said it was discussing the decision with the council and would be taking no action in New Zealand at that stage.

 - Stuff

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