The British drug company Reckitt Benckiser has been fined $1.08 million for misleading claims about its pharmaceuticals.
The fine was issued by Auckland District Court today.
The company faced 10 charges relating to its Nurofen pain killer products.
They included Nurofen Migraine Pain, Nurofen Tension Headache, Nurofen Period Pain and Nurofen Back Pain.
The Commerce Commission alleged people paid a premium of $7 a packet believing these products were tailored to a particular pain in a particular part of the body.
In fact, each product contained exactly the same active ingredient, 342 mg ibuprofen lysine, and all worked identically.
Commerce Commission chairman Dr Mark Berry said the packaging of these products and the company website gave consumers the impression the products were targeted to relieve a specific kind of pain.
"In fact, the products all contained the same ingredients and worked identically, to alleviate inflammation and pain generally, but were not specifically formulated to treat a particular area of pain.
"Consumers paid significantly more for these products compared to other ibuprofen products that would have had a similar effect."
Dr Berry said the Nurofen case was one of the most serious cases he had seen.
In sentencing the company, Judge June Jelas described the company's behaviour as "highly misleading" and said it was "blatantly apparent they were in breach of their lawful obligations to New Zealand consumers".
"Without the misleading statements the reason for the products existence disappears. There was no reason to choose one over the other," she said.
Judge Jelas accepted that RBNZ had expressed its remorse for its conduct, but only after the Commission opened its investigation, having ignored previous warnings and publicity in the media.
The company was also prosecuted in Australia.
In a statement, Nurofen said it had cooperated fully with the Commerce Commission and had taken corrective action to amend the packaging, and to remove the relevant webpages.
It also admitted the charges and acknowledged with deep regret any confusion that was caused.
"Nurofen takes this judgment very seriously and apologises for any unintentional confusion related to the specific-pain range packaging where NZ consumers could have been misled," the company said in a statement.
"This was never our intention."