What happened to chemist-only?

A trip down memory lane to look at how government, business and pharmacy itself helped sink the front-of-shop ‘chemist only’ product, by Ralph Tapping

Younger pharmacists will have some difficulty believing that less than 70 years ago THE place to buy toothpaste was in pharmacy! 

In fact, the same applied to toilet soap, personal hygiene items, hair dyes and perms, vitamins, laxatives, analgesics and contraceptives, to name a few. Country stores were licensed to stock a few medicines where no pharmacy serviced the area.

“Chemist Only” was quite a tradition, with many manufacturers choosing to market their products solely through pharmacy. Parke, Davis and Co, Burroughs-Wellcome; Nyal, Bristol-Myers and even Reckitt & Colman were some examples.

Of course, many products were restricted to pharmacy by virtue of their content being included in the poisons schedules, but many were not.

One such product was Ipana Toothpaste (pictured) that for many years was the leading seller in pharmacy.  It made sense for pharmacists to promote this exclusive product, as customers had to return to pharmacy for supply. The same applied to many products and “Chemist Only” was actively promoted by the Pharmaceutical organisations.

The first company to change their policy was Reckitt and Colman, who caused quite a stir when they elected to make “Disprin” an open-seller. Other products drifted away over time as their manufacturers saw the opportunity to increase sales. 

The final crunch came with the Federal Government “Restrictive Trade Practises Act 1974”. This made it illegal for wholesalers to refuse supply to the likes of Coles and Woolworths, who were demanding these products. 

The only way a company could maintain a C.O policy was to supply direct, which made distribution to several thousand individual pharmacies uneconomical.  Hence the only truly C.O. products today are the medicines controlled under the Poisons Schedules Regulations.

The Parke Davis & Co multivitamin, Myadec (pictured) was sold exclusively through pharmacy and was probably the only multivitamin available at the time, but has disappeared because of competition. 


Losing control of a category 

Back in the 19th century toothpaste was supplied in ceramic pots with loose-fitting lids through pharmacies and dentists.  A host of pot lids have been found over the years in rubbish dumps (two examples of Australian pot lids are pictured). 

Colgate introduced their dentifrice in the USA in the form of a tooth powder in 1873, also in a ceramic jar. The collapsible tube was not invented until l896 when aluminium tubes became available.

The Bristol-Myers company introduced Ipana toothpaste to Australia in 1941, marketed exclusively through pharmacy, later alongside “Nada” toothbrushes. The product was very successful for many years until several pharmacy marketing groups decided to promote the market leader (Colgate) in an attempt to capture sales from supermarkets. 

The result was a steady decline in the Chemist Only product, causing Ipana to be discontinued by the late 1970’s. Interestingly, Ipana is said today to be a leading brand of toothpaste in Turkey.

Both Bristol- Myers and Parke Davis & Co are now subsidiaries of the USA pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.    



Previous "One airway, one disease"
Next Sex, stigma and disruption

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.

1 Comment

  1. Peter Allen

    Aluminium was the first material to manufacture ointment tubes?
    Fuzzy memory doubts this… tin seem more likely. Researching finds:
    “The third U.S. tube plant was the J. S. Turner White Metal Co. of New Brunswick, N.J. It was established in 1898 by John Stroud Turner, who still in his teens, emigrated to the United States from England. Turner learned the art of tube-making as an employee of the Consolidated Fruit Jar Co. When he set up his own business, the J. S. Turner White Metal Co. the assumption is that “white metal” referred to tin-it was in his own home. His first customer was Johnson & Johnson, located in the same city” [The Irrepressible Collapsible Metal Tube, by George A. Stauter, from American Perfumer & Aromatics, December, 1958, courtesy of The Tube Council

Leave a reply