Popular cosmetics chain the Body Shop stirred controversy last November when it advertised a range of products containing hemp, a plant related to cannabis, which is a banned substance. Following its series of advertisements touting hemp seeds as an ingredient in lip salve, soap and hand cream, the Security Bureau tested samples of the items and found they contained traces of cannabinol and tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC), both derivatives of marijuana. However, the bureau admitted the levels of THC in Body Shop products were very low and that people who bought them were unlikely to abuse them. Various consumer and anti- drug groups protested against the Body Shop's advertising tactics. The Consumer Council accused the chain of 'undesirable trade practices' and backed the call for a total product recall. The Action Committee Against Narcotics said the way the products were advertised could encourage youngsters to think cannabis was trendy. Operation Dawn, a rehabilitation centre for drug users, urged the Body Shop to stop publicity which glamorised hemp and cannabis. Rainbow Cheung Kam-hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service's committee on substance abuse, said the chain had billed cannabis as a useful product without warning about its harmful effects. Ms Cheung said about 30 per cent of drug abusers aged between 20 and 25 under the council's programme were cannabis users. Associate professor Lee Kwing-chin from the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Department of Pharmacy said some types of THC were used medically to prevent vomiting. In its defence, the Body Shop said hemp was a useful industrial and skin-care product, not a dangerous drug. Spokesman Curi Yiu Kar-lei said the level of hemp used was so low it would have no harmful effect. 'We use hemp seeds because the oil extracted from them is known to be highly moisturising and good for skin care,' she said. 'We are of course not promoting drugs. Body Shop chemist Dr Barbara Brockway said it did not occur to the company that the public would connect its hemp products with marijuana. She said the image used in its advertising - the five-fingered cannabis leaf - resembled a hand and emphasised hemp's moisturising qualities as a hand cream. Users would have to eat 28,000 bars of the Body Shop's hemp soap to achieve a mind-al tering effect, she said. Dr Brockway said alcohol was used in similar minimal amounts in certain foods, but it did not mean that such products were intoxicating. In the wake of the controver sy, the Body Shop withdrew all its hemp-seed oil based products. However, it is hoping to get Legco to set an acceptable level of hemp seed which can be used for commercial purposes. At press time, no decision has been taken on the matter.