Cold war hangover cure for HK boozers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 November, 2004, 12:00am

Herbal treatment developed by Russian scientists might encourage binge drinking, doctor warns

A hangover cure allegedly used by Russia's cold war secret agents to drink rival spies under the table is to be sold in Hong Kong and the mainland, with distributors boasting that it can help stop the ill effects of excessive drinking.

However, a leading Hong Kong doctor has urged medical authorities to investigate the product - called KGB, the 'key 2 getting better' - warning that it might encourage binge drinking and disguise the effects of alcohol abuse.

The powdered herbal treatment, which will sell for $20 a packet in convenience stores, restaurants and karaoke bars, was developed by Russian scientists and carried by Soviet agents to offset the effects of heavy vodka-drinking sessions, according to its manufacturers.

A consortium of Russian, American and Norwegian businessmen found the remedy on sale in St Petersburg and decided to market it internationally as a hangover wonder cure, registering it under the name KGB - the name of the former Soviet Union's secret service.

Already successful after its recent launch in Europe, it is expected to go on sale in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China in time for Christmas after a deal was struck with Hong Kong company B&B Natural last month.

The company will sell KGB across the Pearl River Delta region.

Ronald Lam, who is in charge of distribution for B&B Natural, said: 'I've tried it and it's wonderful.

'A week ago I drank a bottle of red wine. I had no hangover afterwards. It just didn't feel like I had drunk so much - it was really good.'

Daniel Fung Kim-him, assistant director of B&B Natural, said he drank 'more than a bottle of red wine' in less than an hour before trying KGB, which he dissolved in a glass of water and drank before going to bed.

Like his colleague, who he said 'usually never drinks', Mr Fung said he, too, felt no ill effects the following morning.

His company previously marketed a Korean hangover cure, but Mr Fung said KGB was far more effective.

He said there was already considerable interest in the mainland about the product, and it would fit in well with Hong Kong's work-hard, play-hard lifestyle.

'I believe in Hong Kong and other places, even in China, people are drinking quite often,' he said.

B&B would be careful how it advertised the product so as not to encourage people to 'drink and drink', Mr Fung said.

He added that in any case, 'If you drink crazily there is a limit to how much it will work.'

Hong Kong-based doctor Judith Mackay, a senior World Health Organisation policy adviser and co-author of the Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke, said KGB was a 'prime candidate for some further examination' by Hong Kong's medical authorities.

'There is an inherent danger of getting a cure for something that will almost encourage people to continue a habit that may be harmful,' she said.

'I think it should be looked into by the medical regulatory authority here.'

Dr Mackay said that even if KGB reduced hangovers it might disguise other effects of alcohol abuse such as liver damage, harm to unborn babies and the threat of alcoholism.

However, Kurt Stahl, a member of the consortium behind KGB, dismissed the suggestion that it might encourage binge drinking.

'All of our boxes warn our customers of the hazards associated with drinking,' he said.

Speaking from St Petersburg, Mr Stahl said he was glad to hear that distributors had been 'so enthusiastic in their testing methods', but said that they had drunk to excess only to test KGB's effectiveness.

'There are people who will say that providing the world with a remedy for hangovers equates to encouraging people to over- indulge,' he said.

'These same people might say that providing condoms for safe sex encourages extramarital sex.

'We don't agree. People all over the world will on occasion drink too much. We don't make people drink nor encourage them to drink too much, but we do provide a solution for someone who finds themselves in a position where they have consumed too much.'

Mr Stahl said the product was ideal for Hong Kong and the mainland.

'With this product, people who as part of their business need to go out drinking during the week can go to work the next day without suffering.'