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LCQ3: Monitor advertisements on SARS-related products


Following is a question by the Hon Bernard Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, in the Legislative Council today (June 11):

Question :

The Undesirable Medical Advertisements Ordinance prohibits the publication of advertisements which claim that any medicine or treatment has curative or preventive effects on specified diseases or conditions, including respiratory diseases like pneumonia. In view of the recent surge in advertisements on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ("SARS")-related products, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has monitored the contents of the advertisements for SARS-related products published on web-sites or other media; if so, of the findings;

(b) of the law enforcement actions it has taken against persons who publish advertisements claiming that their products can cure or prevent SARS; and

(c) whether it plans to step up enforcement of the relevant legislation to further protect consumers?

Answer :

Madam President,

The Undesirable Medical Advertisements Ordinance (Cap. 231) ("UMAO") prohibits the advertising of any medicine, surgical appliance or treatment for the prevention or treatment of diseases and conditions listed in the Ordinance, which include infectious diseases and respiratory diseases. The purpose of the Ordinance is to prevent the general public from being misled into improper use of medical products for self-medication in respect of these diseases, thereby causing harm as a result of either the improper medication itself, or the delayed proper treatment they should receive.

(a) Staff of the Department of Health (DH) screen newspapers, magazines and the Internet and visit retail outlets of medicines and health products to screen product promotional materials. Warning letters will be issued to the publishing companies and distributors of products for advertisements that contravene the UMAO and repeated offences will be referred to the Police for investigation and prosecution action.

In the past three months, a total of 3,840 advertisements were screened and 197 advertisements were found to have contravened the UMAO. Out of these 197 advertisements, 102 were related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), of which three appeared on the Internet. Most of these SARS-related advertisements were about proprietary Chinese medicines or health food products with claims on treatment or prevention of SARS.

(b) Since the outbreak of SARS in March, a total of 182 warning letters were issued against 102 SARS-related advertisements. Upon receipt of the warning letters, most of the concerned parties have taken steps to rectify the misleading claims in their advertisements. Three cases have been referred to the police for prosecution action.

(c) DH has stepped up screening of advertisements and will continue to be vigilant in enforcing the UMAO for the protection of public health. We shall review the existing arrangements and work closely with the Police to take prosecution action against offenders.

We are aware that there are some health claims which are not caught under the UMAO, such as detoxification, improving body immune system, etc. To better protect the public from misleading claims, we propose to include in the UMAO a new schedule of claims the advertisement of which would be prohibited. We propose the Director of Health would have the power to amend the new schedule and to extend its coverage to cover other products and services as and when necessary having regard to the latest development and for the protection of public health. We have set up an expert committee comprising medical professionals, academics, as well as Consumer Council representatives to draw up a proposed list. We shall consult the public and the trade on the proposed list later this year.

End/Wednesday, June 11, 2003


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