Coming clean about TCP: When ‘original’ isn’t original

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Coming clean about TCP: When ‘original’ isn’t original

The relaunched antiseptic doesn’t contain the ingredients it once did ... but a competitor's product does

Consumer journalist

Many of us grew up with TCP as the go-to remedy for throat and mouth infections, its distinctive smell instantly transporting us back to our childhoods.
It had lots of other uses too: the label prominently stated that the all-purpose personal antiseptic liquid also treated, cleaned and protected cuts, grazes, minor wounds, insect bites and minor burns.
TCP became a registered trademark in South Africa in 1945, having been introduced to the market in the 1920s, a few years after it went on sale in the UK.
It disappeared from the shelves in 2004 and then, suddenly, in 2015 it was back, thanks to new owners Omegalabs.The packaging was updated but it smelt just the same, and its on-pack messaging and marketing went all out to impress upon South Africans that it was the same loved and trusted product as before. 
“Making its comeback after generations of care,” the website proclaimed.
The 100ml bottle has the word “Original” on the front, and many pharmacies currently display it on-shelf with a cardboard sign reading: “The real TCP is back”.
The problem is, it’s not the original product; the ingredients are not the same as they were in the TCP that was sold in SA for generations.
It does not contain the same amount of phenol (which has anticeptic and disinfectant properties) as before. Sodium salicylate, an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving compound, has been removed entirely from the new formulation.
TCP is registered only with the National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications (NRCS), which administers disinfectants and detergent-disinfectants for use on inanimate surfaces.“Any product to be used on plant or animal tissue … would be required to also have the approval of other regulators such as the Medicines Control Council (now the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority),” said Tando Magolego of the NRCS.
Asked whether the product should still be displayed in the oral health section at pharmacies and other retail outlets, she said: “We do not regulate how they market their products, only whether the disinfectant complies and that it actually performs. The National Consumer Commission (NCC) is the organisation responsible for investigating whether the marketing of products would create confusion.”
The NCC put me on to the Department of Health, which didn’t respond to my query.
Darryl Combe, until recently the general manager of Omegalabs, said when TCP re-entered the South African market in 2015, it did so with the current UK TCP formulation and bottle design. 
“All medicinal claims were removed, which meant that the product could be registered under the Food, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act,” he said.“We do not believe that consumers are being misled by the product claims or its placement on-shelf,” he said. 
This despite the strong emphasis on the word “original” on a product which is significantly different from the one originally sold in SA.
Both Clicks and Dischem appear to be low on TCP stocks. 
“TCP was discontinued six to seven weeks ago because of the supplier changeover,” Clicks told me. Until then it was displayed in the medicated mouthwash section.  “We should have stock back on shelf towards the end of April 2018,” a spokesperson said. 
In January this year all Omegalabs brands, including TCP, were ceded to Austell Pharmaceuticals under a sales and distribution licence. 
Austell’s commercial head, Jarrod Kayton, was at pains to point out that my query about the marketing of TCP, given its change in formula, related to “legacy activities” and not anything implemented by Austell.
Although TCP is classified under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act as a disinfectant, “the general directions for use do not however negate the validity or benefit of using TCP as it was originally used”, Kayton said.But the directions for personal use on the bottle are vague. “To assist with hygiene matters, dilute 1 part TCP with 4 parts water. For use on surfaces and other household items, apply neat for five minutes.”
“Oral health may be included in ‘hygiene matters’,” Kayton said. “We have been engaging with the NRCS around including more specific directions for use so as to clarify these details for consumers,” he said, “and have already submitted a labelling proposal to the NRCS in accordance with their instructions in our discussions (last week).”
So should the new TCP be stocked in the oral hygiene section of pharmacies and outlets such as Clicks and DisChem?
“We see that there is merit in TCP being stocked in the oral health or oral hygiene category,” Kayton said.
“Sodium salicylate has no bearing on the antiseptic or disinfectant properties of the formulation and the reason for the removal of the ingredient from the formulation was simply to align the brand to what is available in the international market without affecting the antiseptic benefits of the product, he said.
But he conceded that it was misleading to market the product as “original”.
“We have therefore taken the decision to remove the statement ‘The Original’ or ‘Original’ from our packaging material and marketing material in pharmacy.
“We have also started the process of updating our artwork and we will phase out the current artwork from the market.”AND WHAT ABOUT 3CP? 
Ironically the original TCP formula is available in South Africa as 3CP, by Tritof Enterprises, since 2010. Like TCP, it is registered under the Food, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act. 
Last year Omegalabs brought court proceedings against Tritof based on trademark infringement, accusing the company of passing off, in that consumers would be confused into thinking there was an association between the two. At one point 3CP used the marketing line: “Different packaging, same ingredients.” 
The court found there was a trademark infringement. The product remains widely on sale as 3CP, at a significantly higher price than TCP.
CONTACT WENDY
Email: consumer@knowler.co.za
Twitter: @wendyknowler

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