British company fine increased for misleading Australians

SYDNEY (AP) — An Australian court ordered a British consumer goods company on Friday to pay 6 million Australian dollars ($4.4 million) in penalties for misleading consumers about the effectiveness of a popular painkiller.

The full-bench of the Federal Court upheld an appeal by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the watchdog which launched the court action, against a smaller fine of AU$1.7 million imposed on Reckitt Benckiser in April.

The watchdog argued that that penalty was too lenient to deter companies from breaching consumer law.

The Federal Court ruled a year ago that Reckitt Benckiser deceived Australians by selling Nurofen painkillers that were marketed to relieve specific ailments, such as back pain and period pain, when all of the products contained an identical amount of the same active ingredient, ibuprofen lysine. The court ordered the company to remove the products from Australian stores.

The watchdog had asked the court to impose a penalty of AU$6 million, arguing consumers had been tricked into unnecessarily paying more for the drugs. The watchdog said the price of the specific pain products was nearly double that of Nurofen's standard ibuprofen painkiller and other general pain relief products sold by competitors.

Reckitt Benckiser has since changed the packaging for its specific pain line to indicate the drugs are also effective for general pain relief.

The Nurofen brand said in a statement it was disappointed by Friday's ruling because it considered the original penalty appropriate.

Nurofen accepted that the representations made on its webpage and packaging may have misled consumers, although it was intended to provide easy navigation of pain relief options.