15 Dec 2015

Call to axe targeted Nurofen in NZ

5:14 pm on 15 December 2015

New Zealand needs to follow Australia's example and pull some Nurofen pain-relief products from the market, the Consumers' Institute says.


The Consumers' Institute says some Nurofen painkillers should be pulled from New Zealand shelves. Photo: AAP

Australia's Federal Court has ordered that the Nurofen Back Pain, Period Pain, Migraine Pain and Tension Headache products, made by Reckitt Benckiser, be removed from shop shelves.

The painkillers all use exactly the same active ingredient - ibuprofen lysine 342mg - but Reckitt Benckiser sold the products for twice as much as the company's general painkiller.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched action against the company in March and now an Australian court has found Reckitt Benkiser made misleading claims about the products.

New Zealand Consumer's Institute chief executive Sue Chetwin told Morning Report the same thing was happening here and, while the Commerce Commission was investigating, no action had been taken.

"We've been saying for some time that something needs to be done about it here," she said.

"The Nurofen products - back pain, period pain, tension pain, which have nothing more in them than you can get in ordinary old Nurofen but are being sold at considerably more prices - are being sold to consumers here.

"The outcome from the ACCC has been very clear - these items do need to be taken off the shelves and there's no reason why New Zealand shouldn't be taking the same action."

Ms Chetwin said, while the products may relieve pain, they did so at a considerable cost.

"These items will help you, probably, with back pain and with period pain but the same [general] Nurofen would do exactly the same job at half the price," she said.

"You can almost buy the generics of these brands at a lower price and get the same outcome."

Reckitt Benkiser admitted that it engaged in misleading conduct in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law, but the company denied attempting to deceive customers with its product packaging and other marketing.

"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 spokesperson Montse Pena said in a statement.

But Ms Chetwin said they had definitely pulled the wool over customers' eyes.

"I guess it is laughable that the manufacturer would say that it didn't set out to misrepresent consumers," she said. "That's exactly what they have done."

Ms Chetwin said New Zealand authorities needed to either take the product off the shelves, or make sure they were labelled as being the same.

A spokesperson for Nurofen New Zealand said in a separate statement that the Australian court decision was only applicable in Australia.

"Nurofen New Zealand will continue to work with regulators in New Zealand to ensure that Nurofen packaging continues to be fully aligned with all guidelines and requirements and will review packaging if required."

The spokesperson added all over-the-counter medicines were subject to "rigorous pharmaceutical and clinical review" before they were granted a licence.

Investigation under way in New Zealand

A Commerce Commission spokesperson said it was investigating the issue.

"Reckitt Benckiser is co-operating with the commission. We are aware of the [Australian] federal court's ruling and will be considering it as part of our enquiries," the spokesperson said.

The commission said it was unable to provide any more details about the investigation while it was ongoing.

Medicines authority Medsafe said it was aware of the issue but had not had any complaints.

  • Nurofen misled shoppers, Australian court finds