Apparently Reckitt Benckiser, the British pharmaceutical leviathan who manufacture the Nurofen brand of ibuprofen painkillers, have been telling lies. According to the Australian Federal Court, they engaged in “misleading and deceptive conduct by representing that each product in the Nurofen pain specific range was specifically formulated to treat a specific type of pain when the products are identical.”
Don’t get it? Here’s a clip courtesy of Australian consumer affairs/comedy show “Check-Out” to explain the entire sordid affair.
On the off-chance that you’re still a little confused, let me break it down for you.
You know when you get a migraine so awful you feel as though a clan of dwarven blacksmiths have taken up residence inside your skull, and if you don’t get some relief from the spirit-crushing, stomach-churning, soul-destroying agony in short order, you’ll carve your own head open with an angle grinder? That’s when you head for the pharmacy/supermarket/petrol station for some Nurofen. And as chance would have it, they happen to have a “pain specific” range on the shelves, allegedly formulated to “specifically target” migraine pain. It’s slightly more expensive than the plain vanilla-flavoured Nurofen, but then this product has been “specifically formulated” for “fast targeted pain relief”, so that’s perfectly understandable, right? Well, no. No it isn’t. Because it’s all bollocks.
See, ibuprofen, by its very nature, is what’s termed a non-selective medication. This means it lacks the ability to specifically target specific types of pain. To use a military analogy, when you drop a couple of Nurofen, you’re using the painkiller equivalent of a dumb-fire missile. It doesn’t differentiate between targets because it can’t; it just obliterates whatever you point it at. So, for Reckitt Benckiser to claim that Nurofen for migraines, tension headaches, period pain and so on, have been specifically formulated to “target” specific types of pain… well, it’s a big fucking lie. If you look at the packaging of these products, you’ll see that they all contain the exact same ingredient — ibuprofen lysine. You’re essentially paying more for no discernable reason whatsoever, and Reckitt Benckiser are laughing all the way to the bank.
Or they were, until they were hauled over the coals by the Australian Federal Court and the Commerce Commission here in New Zealand, who have both taken a very dim view of the pharmaceutical giant’s rapacious, unethical behaviour. As a result, a temporary packaging arrangement has been negotiated whereby these dubious products must now be sold with labels indicating that they are equally effective in the treatment of other forms of pain — which rather puts paid to the old “fast targeted pain relief” scam. How awkward.
Or it would be awkward if large multinationals displayed any sort of social conscience whatsoever. Which they don’t. True to form, Reckitt Benckiser would have us believe it’s all an unfortunate misunderstanding/unintentional oversight, and they have nothing but our best interests at heart. A company spokesperson stated, “Nurofen specific-pain products were launched to help consumers with the navigation of pain-relief options in the grocery environment where the support of a healthcare professional is limited. Nurofen NZ takes this matter seriously and regrets that its packaging may have been misleading, as this was never the intention.”
That’s right, kids. You’re a slack-jawed knuckle-dragger unable to “navigate” the “grocery environment” without Reckitt Benckiser selflessly lying to you as you shuffle aimlessly through the aisles. They know how challenging it is to shop for painkillers without a GP conveniently stuffed in the baby seat of your trolley, and they were just trying to help. Bless them. Of course, the reality is that there was very likely a meeting of the marketing staff where this dubious practice was discussed and approved. “We flog off the same product with slightly different packaging, at a higher price point, and no one’s the wiser! People are stupid and lazy and they never read the ingredients anyway!” “But isn’t that… you know, unethical?” “If you’ve nothing constructive to contribute, Stephanie, the photocopier’s almost out of paper. Why don’t you be a sweetheart and go fill it up for us?”
Incidentally, in 2010 Reckitt Benckiser were fined 10.2 million pounds for “anti-competitive behaviour”. Truly, a fine, upstanding corporate citizen.