“Nurofen is better than paracetamol for common headaches,” declared the advertisements in women’s lifestyle magazines.
The Federal Court has found that claim to be misleading and deceptive, after two pharmaceutical giants went head-to-head in a two-year legal battle.
GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Panadol???, alleged Nurofen’s manufacturer, Reckitt Benckiser???, ran an advertising campaign saying Nurofen was faster and more effective than Panadol, or paracetamol, despite there being no scientific evidence to support it.
The advertisements, also shown on television in 2015, included a graph with a bright red line above a dull green line, illustrating what was said to be Nurofen’s superior performance over paracetamol.
The claim was based on a single clinical trial in 1996, which found that a dose of ibuprofen???, the active ingredient in Nurofen, was more effective than a single dose of paracetamol in the treatment of muscle contraction headaches.
Two other studies did not replicate those findings, and subsequent analyses found there was little difference between the two drugs in the treatment of tension-type headaches, the court heard.
It was not clear whether the initial clinical trial used the commercial formulas of the drug.
“In my view, it is misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive consumers in Australia for Reckitt to claim that ibuprofen (Nurofen) provides faster and more effective relief from pain caused by common headaches … than does paracetamol (Panadol),” Federal Court judge Lindsay Foster said.
The judge granted a permanent injunction, barring Reckitt Benckiser from making those or similar claims, and for the company to pay GlaxoSmithKline’s legal costs.
Less than a year ago, Reckitt Benckiser was ordered to pay a $6 million corporate penalty, the highest ever issued for misleading conduct under the Australian Consumer Law, over its specific pain relief range.
The latest case also gave insight into the over-the-counter pain relief market in Australia, with evidence it was worth $580 million in the year ending August 2015.
GlaxoSmithKline said it makes more than 50 million Panadol packets a year, and five million bottles of the baby range.
Their research showed that consumers bought over-the-counter pain medications roughly every two months, and that a third of consumers buy both paracetamol and ibuprofen products based on different needs, new medical conditions, or in-store displays.
Market research before the court said that a “fast acting” medication was the most important need for consumers suffering headaches or migraines.
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