Nurofen maker hit by $6m fine over “misleading conduct”

pharmafile | December 16, 2016 | News story | Sales and Marketing Nurofen, Reckitt Benckiser 

After a case last year levied by the Australian Federal Court over “misleading conduct” concerning the marketing of its branded painkiller Nurofen, Reckitt Benckiser has now had its fine increased from $1.7 million to $6 million following an appeal from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The British firm was found in December 2015 to have knowingly misrepresented its Nurofen Specific Pain range, a selection of ibuprofen-based painkillers which claim to ‘target’ selected areas of pain, when in fact they were identical to the regular variety. Despite being sold for as much as twice the price, these products contain 342mg ibuprofen lysine, exactly the same ingredient and quantity as its basic product. The manufacturer was hit with a $1.7 million fine and ordered to remove the products from shelves within three months.

The Federal Court ruling stated: “Over a period of nearly five years … Reckitt Benckiser repeatedly engaged in the contravening conduct, selling 5.9 million packets of the so-called Nurofen specific pain range products. As such the theoretical maximum penalty for the contraventions … was ‘many, many millions of dollars’.”

Around three months later, the ACCC felt that the penalty did not act as an “adequate deterrent” to the company, launching an appeal in March. The new ruling passed this week, increasing the penalty to $6 million, is intended to act as a warning to “ensure Reckitt Benckiser and other ‘would-be wrongdoers’ think twice and decide not to act against the strong public interest”.

Calling the verdict “a great win for Australian consumers” ACCC chairman Rod Sims told Fairfax Media: “We are running a campaign to end misleading conduct by large companies. We think this helps send that message. This is a great penalty within the current framework, but we are going to be pushing for a much higher level of penalty under Australian Consumer Law. At the moment it’s up to $1.1 million per breach. We think it should be increased to up to $10 million.”

Reckitt Benckiser itself said it was “disappointed” by the decision, and attempted to defend its stance: “The Specific Pain Range contains ibuprofen lysine – a unique formulation in the Nurofen range that is absorbed faster than the regular ibuprofen contained in standard Nurofen.” 

The company also added that it “could have done more to assist [its] consumers … [and] to show that each of the products in the range is equally effective for the other pains indicated on the Nurofen Specific Pain Range packaging.”

Matt Fellows

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