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Exaggerated medical ads need stricter regulation

By Zhang Zhouxiang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-12-08 16:51

"Drink our products and you can extend your life span by 10 percent." So said Li Chuyuan, board chairperson of Guangzhou Phar. Holdings (GPH), at the recently held Fortune 2017 Brainstorm Tech International, "That's the study result of the National 863 Plan."

His firm published these words on their official social network micro blog account, adding that, "Yin Ye, CEO of genetic research giant BGI, nodded to approve." A few hours later, Yin responded on his micro blog: "I did not mean approval… I nodded out of politeness and that's all."

Another few hours later, the "research" quoted by Li was discovered by journalists in detail. A research team divided 576 mice into two teams and fed one team Wanglaoji, a beverage developed by GPH. Within three years, the team that received the beverage survived 708 days on average, 33 days longer than the other.

Please note the following facts:

It is the parent firm GPH, which participated in the research, that announced the study results.

The funding of the research remains unknown even though GPH claimed it was part of a national technology promotion plan that started on March 1986. That plan had already ended last February.

Huang Junming, a medical researcher in the research, responded that the research was meant to evaluate the safety of the beverage, and they did not reach any conclusions about prolonging life.

Ma Guansheng, a professor on nutrition studies from Peking University, also said: "How many beverages did the tested mice take? How did the beverages help to prolong life? It is absurd and irresponsible to claim a drink prolongs life by 10 percent without sufficient research data."

GPH is just one of the pharmacy firms that got into trouble for exaggerating advertisements recently. A widespread article by dxy.com, a website publicizing medical knowledge, said that the domestic pharmacy firm Shapuaisi had long boasted its eye drops could curb and even cure cataracts in its advertisements, and made sales of 750 million yuan ($113 million) in 2016. However, it is common sense among medical professionals that cataracts cannot be curbed or cured by any medicine.

Shapuaisi was further reported to have spent 260 million yuan on advertisements in 2016, but only 5.5 million yuan on cataract medicine R&D. Now the China Food and Drug Administration has already asked its branch in Zhejiang province to investigate this case and prompted the enterprise to do clinical experiments.

It's good that the CFDA has taken action. But the two enterprises are already suspected of having broken the Advertisement Law. Shapuaisi's advertisements contain statements such as "Do not fear cataracts - we can cure them!" It also recruited Lang Ping, a famous former volleyball player and now coach, to tell audiences she prevented cataracts with the medicine.

Clause 16 of the Advertisement Law forbids medical advertisements to contain promises of cures or employ any celebrity to say he/she has been cured. Therefore, Shapuaisi has already broken the Advertisement Law and the publication authorities should investigate.

Besides, both GPH and Shapuaisi have misled patients into believing something contrary to the common sense of medical professionals. Some media reports quoted ophthalmologists as saying that 90 percent of cataract patients receiving operations had used Shapuaisi before going to see the doctor, which delayed real treatment. If that's confirmed, the patients could sue Shapuaisi for compensation.

Some argue that GHP exaggerated the effect of its products in the board chairman’s personal remarks, not an advertisement. But Li uttered the words in public and he meant to promote sales, which should be considered an advertisement.

A look through the past shows that both enterprises have had such advertisements for a long time, and we hope the local publication authorities could do their job by investigating both cases.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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