Ad leads to call for stricter regulations

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2007, 12:00am

Health product commercial spurs legislator, medical expert to question current law

A legislator and a medical expert have called for better legislation to regulate advertising for health products in retail shops after an ad that drew a severe warning to a television station continued to be broadcast by a pharmaceutical chain.

Mannings decided to withdraw the advertisement yesterday - a week and a half after the warning was issued by the Broadcasting Authority to Cable TV - after an inquiry by the South China Morning Post.

The advertisement, however, was still being broadcast at the Manning's store in Quarry Bay yesterday.

The company, not being a licensed broadcaster, does not fall under the authority's regulation, although it broadcasts television advertisements in its shops.

The product, Alcolout, was touted as alleviating drunkenness by combating ethanol poisoning but the authority said it had only been found to be effective in mice.

The broadcast watchdog gave Cable TV a serious warning last Tuesday, after it aired the advertisement on December 17 on the English Premier League channel.

The authority said there was an absence of scientific grounds for the advertiser to claim the product's effectiveness in preventing ethanol poisoning in humans, as the claims were only based on a study in mice.

The authority also said Cable TV had not exercised due diligence to ascertain the truthfulness of the claims in Alcolout's advertisement.

A legislator and a medical expert said the fact that it could be freely broadcast by Mannings showed a need for better regulation.

The ad could be clearly heard in the Mannings store in Quarry Bay on Thursday.

After an inquiry, a spokesman said: 'We will take the advertisement out from all Mannings branches by [yesterday]. To understand the situation better, we have talked to representatives from Alcolout and we understand that they are trying to submit more proof to the Broadcasting Authority for the authority to consider if the advice could be withdrawn.'

She said Manning's was not a licensed broadcaster although it broadcast television advertisements inside its shops.

'Our marketing department will work with our advertising agency to handle matters on censorship. We definitely will not run advertisements which are violent or sexual.'

The Broadcasting Authority said it only regulated licensed broadcasters and noted that the 'strong advice' given to Cable TV did not constitute a ban on the advertisement.

According to a spokesman from the Consumer Council, the council could help to deal with consumers' complaints when there is discrepancy found between the claims made in the products' advertisements and the products themselves, but it could not regulate the broadcasting of advertisements.

After viewing the Alcolout advertisement, The Department of Health did not find that it had violated the Undesirable Medicine Advertisement Ordinance, a department spokesman said in response to questions about Mannings broadcasting of the ad.

Fred Li Wah-ming, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council's panel on food safety, said if the propagation of such ads by retailers was not restricted under the broadcasting laws, there was a loophole requiring new legislation.

'After the authority's advice given to Cable TV, the advertisement should not be rerun in any form available to the public,' he said.

'The advertisement contained exaggerated claims that might encourage people to drink. But the running of it is not restricted among retailers by the authority.

'It seems to suggest that the incumbent legislation has become outdated and new legislation is needed.'

People's Health Action chairman Lo Wing-lok said it could be dangerous to public health to continue to run advertisements containing unsupported claims.

'Whenever there is an untrue or misleading representation, we should ban the ad,' Dr Lo said.

'Especially when the product's commercial contained claims to its medical or therapeutic value, it could have an undesirable impact on the public if it continues to air.'