16 Dec 2016

Nurofen maker fined $6m by Australian watchdog

2:13 pm on 16 December 2016

The Australian manufacturers of Nurofen painkillers will be fined $A6 million for 'inherently misleading' consumers, after an original fine of $A1.7m was increased on appeal.

One of the Nurofen specific pain products with updated packaging.

One of the Nurofen specific pain products with updated packaging. Photo: Supplied / Nurofen NZ

Earlier this year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) won its case against pharmaceutical giant Reckitt Benckiser over the company's "specific pain" range.

It handed the company a $1.7 million fine, but today that was increased to $6 million after the consumer watchdog appealed.

The New Zealand Commerce Commission also laid 10 charges against Reckitt Benckiser in September over the "nature, characteristics and suitability" of the product.

The specific pain range claimed to "target" back pain, migraine, tension headache or period pain, when they in fact all contained the same active ingredient, ibuprofen lysine 342mg.

The ACCC argued consumers may have thought they needed to buy multiple products to achieve adequate pain relief.

Appeal Justices Jagot, Yates and Bromwich said the products were "inherently misleading".

"Contrary to the representations, ibuprofen does not target any particular type of pain. It treats all types of pain precisely the same way."

Between 2011 and 2015 the company sold 5.9 million packets of the specific pain medication, yielding revenue of $A45 million.

In a statement, Reckitt Benckiser said it was "disappointed" with court's decision to impose a higher penalty.

"Nurofen is disappointed by this decision as it considers the original penalty of the Federal Court in April was appropriate in all the circumstances," the statement read.

"Nurofen did not intend to mislead consumers, however we recognise that we could have done more to assist our consumers in navigating the Nurofen Pain Specific Range."

When lodging the appeal, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the fine imposed would not deter companies from breaching consumer laws.

"It is disappointing a fine of $1.7 million was imposed for a company this size," he said.

"It is not really going to catch people's attention and send the deterrence message we need.

"The judge found that Reckitt Benckiser had made many millions in profits from the sale of 5.9 million units of Nurofen at around 8500 outlets nationwide over the five-year period."

In December, the Federal Court ordered that all Nurofen specific pain products be removed from retail sale within three months, and the company post corrective notices in newspapers and on its website.

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