Earlier tonight, my mother purchased two boxes of Theraflu in preparation for the upcoming flu season. In the store, each of the two boxes appeared to be different formulas of the same brand; one was designated as a “Flu and Sore Throat” remedy, while the other was supposed to be a “Nighttime Severe Cold” formula. The labels even had different background colors:
However, after looking at the labels, we noticed that the active Theraflu ingredients of the two varieties were exactly the same! Even the warnings, indicated uses, dosage directions, everything was the same. The two labels were exact duplicates of each other:
The only actual difference between the two versions was the flavoring. Unfortunately, they did not bother to list the inactive ingredients on either of the labels, so it’s hard to tell if those lemon and apple cinnamon flavors are really “natural” or not.
Meanwhile, if we look back at the front of the two labels, we can see another curious feature. Under the main label headings where it lists the symptoms that these medicines are supposed to relieve, they appear to be somewhat different until we closely inspect the list. In reality, the two labels are listing exactly the same symptoms, but with the words rearranged in a different order!
So if anyone out there is thinking that the “Nighttime Severe Cold” formula (notice that they even added a little moon and stars picture in there for added effect) might help them fall asleep faster, while the presumably non-drowsy “Flu and Sore Throat” version could help them get through the day better than the other kind, it seems that they are sadly mistaken because there is no difference between these two formulas.
All of this raises the question: is this a case of deceptive advertising because these two varieties of Theraflu are being marketed as different products but are substanially the same thing and treat the exact same symptoms? Or should the drug companies be able to market and label their products however they want as long as they disclose the active ingredients? Well folks, to quote the infamous words of Fox News, “we report, you decide”…
UPDATE 1/20/08: It seems that many of you are finding my page through the search results. This is good! In this update, I will answer some of the questions that you have been asking in the search queries. If you have any other questions that are not answered here or in the main article, please feel free to mention these in the comment section below.
Q: What are the TheraFlu active ingredients?
A: Acetaminophen (650 mg), Pheniramine maleate (20 mg), Phenylephrine Hydrochloride (10 mg)
Q: What are the TheraFlu inactive ingredients?
A: Aspartame, Acesulfame K, Citric Acid, D&C Yellow 10, FD&C Red 40, Maltodextrin, Flavoring, Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Citrate, Sucrose, Tribasic Calcium Phosphate
Note that both sets of ingredients apply to the two varieties of TheraFlu shown on this page. If you happen to encounter a different variety, the ingredients may be slightly different, although in this case, both varieties had exactly the same ingredients.