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An administrative law judge has upheld Federal Trade Commission charges that ads claiming that Doan's pills are more effective in relieving back pain than other over-the-counter pain relievers are unsubstantiated and false. Judge Lewis F. Parker's order would bar Novartis Corporation and Novartis Consumer Health, Inc., the marketers of Doan's, from representing that the product is more effective than other over-the counter products unless they possess and rely upon competent and reliable scientific evidence -- including at least two clinical studies -- to substantiate their claims. In addition, the order would require Novartis to have scientific substantiation for any claims they make regarding the efficacy, safety, benefits or performance of any over-the-counter analgesic they market. The judge's order did not impose a corrective advertising campaign requirement, sought by the agency, to counteract the deceptive ads.

In June 1996, the FTC charged that contrary to its advertising claims, there was no evidence that Doan's pills are better than competing over-the-counter analgesics in relieving back pain. The complaint cited ads that displayed packages of Doan's and other pain relievers that contained statements such as:

  • "Doan's is made for back pain relief with an ingredient [other] pain relievers don't have. Doan's makes back pain go away. ... The Back Specialist.";
  • "If nothing seems to help, try Doan's. It relieves back pain no matter where it hurts. Doan's has an ingredient these pain relievers don't have."; and
  • "Back pain is different. Why use these pain relievers? Doan's is just for back pain."

Through those and similar statements, the FTC alleged, Ciba-Geigy Corporation, now Novartis, claimed that Doan's analgesic products were more effective than other analgesics, including Advil, Aleve, Bayer, Motrin and Tylenol, for relieving back pain. The agency charged that the claims were unsubstantiated.

The ruling announced today follows an administrative trial to resolve the FTC charges. In his ruling, Judge Parker said Novartis, "disseminated advertisements for Doan's analgesic products that falsely represented to reasonable consumers that Doan's analgesic products are more effective than other analgesics for relieving back pain." He noted that "consumers suffered economic injury because Doan's products are significantly more expensive than other over-the-counter analgesics."

Judge Parker's order would prohibit Novartis from making the superiority claims unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence, including at least two clinical studies, to support the claim. In addition, the order would require them to have scientific substantiation for any claim they make regarding the efficacy, safety, benefits or performance of any over-the-counter analgesics they market.

Judge Parker's order is subject to review by the full Commission either on the Commission's own motion or on appeal by the respondent. If not appealed within 30 days, it will become the Commission's decision and order, effective 60 days after it is served.

Novartis, headquartered in Summit, New Jersey, is a subsidiary of Novartis AG, a Swiss pharmaceutical company.

Copies of the initial order, the June 1996 complaint and a consent agreement settling charges in this matter with Doan's advertising agency, Jordan, McGrath, are available from the FTC's web site at and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-3128; TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. Consent agreements subject to public comment also are available by calling 202-326-3627. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.

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