Reckitt Benckiser has court win over misleading painkiller ads

Pharmaceutical giant Reckitt Benckiser has won a case alleging misleading conduct against New Zealand drug company AFT Pharmaceuticals over claims about pain relief tablets.

The dispute was over claims by AFT that its painkiller Maxigesic was more effective that Reckitt’s competing brand, Nuromol, made in marketing campaigns to promote Paracetamol-Ibuprofin combinations following the withdrawal of over-the-counter Codeine based medicines in February this year.


The Maxigesic campaign featured a print ad, a point of sale advertisement and a pamphlet that stated the medication provided stronger and more effective pain relief than Nuromol, or any other Paracetamol-Ibuprofen mixture, when taken at their respective maximum recommended daily doses.

Justice Gleeson in the Federal Court observed in his ruling that at their maximum recommended daily dosages, Maxigesic delivers 2500mg more paracetamol and 600mg more ibuprofen than Nuromol.

Given the different dosages, the judge ruled AFT’s advertising had been misleading under the Australian Consumer Law, writing:

Those representations were misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive in contravention of s 18 of the ACL; they were misleading representations that the Maxigesic goods were of a particular quality, namely, able to provide the stronger and more effective pain relief referred to in the representations, in contravention of s 29(1)(a) of the ACL; and they were made in contravention of s 29(1)(g) of the ACL because they were misleading representations that the Maxigesic goods had the performance characteristics of providing stronger and more effective pain relief referred to in the representations. In the absence of an adequate scientific foundation, I also conclude that, by making the representations, AFT engaged in conduct that was liable to mislead the public as to the characteristics of the Maxigesic goods, in contravention of s 33 of the ACL.

The ruling also referred to one of Beckitt Benckister’s recent court losses over the marketing of painkillers, where GlaxoSmithKline won a dispute over comparisons between Nurofen and Paracetamol.

In that case, Justice Gleeson ruled where advertising claims are made of a scientific nature, showing there is no scientific foundation for those claims may be enough to establish that the claims are misleading.

Last year Reckitt Benckiser was fined $6 million for misleading consumers over different pain relief products and in 2013 was ordered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to withdraw ad claims about ‘targeted relief’.

Both companies have been contacted for comment.


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