Global drugs company GlaxoSmithKline was fined 217,000 New Zealand dollars (USD 156,000; EUR 117,000) for misleading advertising Tuesday after two science students found its iconic black currant drink Ribena contained no detectable vitamin C.
The multinational company admitted to 15 charges of misleading advertising between 2002 and 2006 in a suit filed by the Commerce Commission, a consumer watchdog, after a 2004 school science project exposed the false claims.
Ribena has long been sold as a healthy drink based on advertisements that black currant juice has more vitamin C than orange juice. Its New Zealand advertisements claimed Ready to Drink Ribena had 7 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 milliliters (0.25 ounce per 3.4 fluid ounces).
But high school students Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo, then 14, found it contained almost no trace of vitamin C after testing the children's syrup-based drink as part of a science project in 2004.
Auckland District Court Judge Phil Gittos fined GlaxoSmithKline and ordered it to run corrective advertisements, in addition to a message on its Web site.
The girls were in court to hear the verdict, the AP reports.
"We feel quite proud ... blown away," Devathasan told National Radio. "If we hadn't done that science test three years ago, Ribena could have been promoted as vitamin C full forever."
It was "remarkable nobody had even picked it up ... and we just stumbled on it by chance," she said, adding that she thought the fine should have been more because GlaxoSmithKline was a multibillion dollar company.
Commerce Commission chairwoman Paula Rebstock praised the teenagers and called them a "true inspiration to everyone at the commission." The commission had sought a fine of NZ$350,000.
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