Painkiller adverts misleading, panel rules

Two drug companies which market popular painkillers have given each other a headache over the advertising of one of the drugs.

GlaxoSmithKline, which sells paracetamol-based drug Panadol, complained that Reckitt Benckiser, which markets and manufactures ibuprofen-based Nurofen, might have misled consumers in its advertising.

In a complex decision, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaints after reviewing a total of 12 advertisements which included television and print advertising targeted at consumers and a magazine aimed at healthcare professionals.

The panel of ASA complaints board members found that Reckitt Benckiser had breached the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code because some advertising might have been misleading.

Much of the complaint centred on how some of the information was presented in some versions of the advertisements. In some advertisements Nurofen was claimed to be “more effective than paracetamol for relief of tension headaches”. This statement was backed up with reference to a study that showed this.

However, in some versions of the advertisements, the words were separated and the ASA panel found that people might have read only the words “more effective than paracetamol”, without seeing “for relief of tension headaches”.  The ASA panel found that some consumers might believe Nurofen was more effective than paracetamol, which was not proven to be the case.

GlaxoSmithKline also took exception to claims that Nurofen worked faster and lasted longer than paracetamol, which were also found to be misleading.

“The panel was satisfied that the advertisements referred to were likely to mislead the consumer and exploit the consumer’s lack of knowledge – particularly because of the limited substantiation for both the absolute claims and comparative nature of the advertising.

“Overarching all therapeutic advertising was the requirement for a high standard of social responsibility. “The panel concluded that this aspect of the code had also been breached.”  Further claims that Nurofen was “at least as gentle on the stomach” as paracetamol had been “inappropriate”, the panel said. Ian Adams, director of medical and science affairs for GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare division, said the company was pleased with the result.

The company’s main concern was about misinformation, he said.  “If there’s any claims which are not correct out there in the market place, it can lead to miscommunications for both consumers and healthcare professionals so we just wanted to make sure that the message going out was correct.”  Reckitt Benckiser said last night that not all the complaints against it were upheld.

A spokesman said that Nurofen had been found to be more effective than paracetamol for relief of tension headaches and the company was allowed to use the sentence in future advertising.

An ASA spokeswoman said the Nurofen advertisements had been adapted to remove any unsubstantiated claims.

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