The other day I cracked open a new box of headache tablets and noticed something odd – two empty slots in the foil blister pack inside.
It didn’t seem right, so I had a look at the old packet sitting in the bathroom.
Sneaky I thought – Herron had dropped the number of tablets per package by four in an attempt to make more money from consumer, while not having to jack up the shelf price.
Called ‘package downsizing’, the practice is very common these days among manufacturers of consumer goods, as they walk a fine line between making money and not pissing off their customers.
In the case of Herron, their downsizing tactic was called out in the November 27, 2013 edition of the “Column 8” column in the Sydney Morning Herald:
The mysteries of modern packaging … ”I recently bought a packet of 20 Herron paracetamol tablets,” reports Deborah Harris, of Glenbrook. ”But the two strips inside could accommodate 12 pills each, so two spots were empty on each. Why? Why not just put 24 pills in the packet?”
The answer came the next week, and it turns out Herron had a perfectly legitimate reason for their change – new regulations issued in mid-2013 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration:
The maximum paracetamol pack size to be sold in Australian retailers other than in pharmacies is going to change from twenty-five to twenty and will be fully implemented by 1 September 2013.
Paracetamol can cause serious liver damage if taken in high doses.
The decision to decrease the pack size was made after considering the risks of different pack sizes in Australia. It is expected that this decision will result in fewer people requiring medical intervention following a paracetamol overdose.
The pack price is a commercial decision. The TGA has no role in determining pack price.
Their reasoning for the decrease in pack size by just four tablets was safety:
- Approximately 8000 patients per year are treated in Australia for paracetamol overdose taken as deliberate self-harm, usually without suicidal intent.
- Self-harm is usually impulsive, and is not the same as deliberate suicidal intent.
- In Australia, the median dose taken in an overdose is 12 g (one packet), while the mean ingestion was 12.5 g.
- The pack size seems to be linked to the amount of paracetamol consumed in an overdose.
Who would have thought a simple packet of paracetamol would have lead me on this journey of discovery?