All-out ef­forts ur­gently needed to crack down on health­care mar­ket ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties

Global Times - - BIZCOMMENT - By Wang Ji­amei Page Ed­i­tor: chu­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

The scan­dal sur­round­ing Chi­nese health­care prod­ucts maker Quan­jian con­tin­ued to grow as po­lice in North China’s Tian­jin de­tained 18 sus­pects, in­clud­ing the con­troller of the com­pany, on Jan­uary 7, with two other sus­pects re­leased on bail pend­ing trial.

With the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Quan­jian for al­leged false ad­ver­tis­ing and il­le­gal pyra­mid-sell­ing, the chaos in China’s health­care prod­ucts in­dus­try has grasped the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion. Al­though the coun­try’s health­care prod­ucts mar­ket has de­vel­oped into a huge in­dus­try from scratch over re­cent decades, the sec­tor has been ex­tremely chaotic due to the lack of stan­dards, reg­u­la­tion and su­per­vi­sion. In or­der to sell their health­care prod­ucts, mar­ket play­ers of­ten fab­ri­cated facts and ex­ag­ger­ated the prod­uct’s ef­fects, which se­ri­ously dis­rupted the mar­ket or­der and in­fringed on the le­git­i­mate rights and in­ter­ests of con­sumers. There­fore, it is ur­gent for the rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment de­part­ments to rec­tify ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and en­sure close su­per­vi­sion of the in­dus­try.

Quan­jian is just a tip of the ice­berg. There are lots of Quan­jian-like com­pa­nies, big or small, that cheat con­sumers with their mis­lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing in China’s tan­gled health­care prod­ucts mar­ket. By the end of Oc­to­ber 2018, mar­ket reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties at all lev­els had in­ves­ti­gated and pun­ished 49,000 cases of fraud and false ad­ver­tis­ing of food and health­care prod­ucts, worth a to­tal of 1.71 bil­lion yuan ($252.9 mil­lion), ac­cord­ing to the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Mar­ket Reg­u­la­tion.

With the im­prove­ment of Chi­nese peo­ple’s liv­ing stan­dards, they are pay­ing in­creas­ing at­ten­tion to health and longevity in re­cent years, boost­ing a huge health­care prod­ucts mar­ket. Ac­cord­ing to data from the China Nu­tri­tion and Health Food As­so­ci­a­tion, by the end of 2016, China had more than 2,300 com­pa­nies pro­duc­ing pack­aged food prod­ucts, with to­tal out­put val­ued at nearly 400 bil­lion yuan.

Yet, the vast mar­ket space and at­trac­tive profit mar­gin have cre­ated a hot­bed for sales ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and false ad­ver­tis­ing. At present, many health­care prod­ucts mak­ers are un­will­ing to in­vest in R&D but are ex­u­ber­ant about hyp­ing their so-called high-tech con­cepts, con­cen­trat­ing their ef­forts on mar­ket­ing pro­mo­tion only. Ac­cord­ing to an Ac­cen­ture re­port, the av­er­age cost of health­care prod­ucts is only about 10 per­cent of their re­tail prices.

What’s even worse, with the ag­ing Chi­nese so­ci­ety, the el­derly have be­come an im­por­tant cus­tomer group in the health­care prod­ucts mar­ket. How­ever, many health­care prod­uct sales­men have de­vel­oped il­le­gal sales meth­ods cheat­ing the el­derly into buy­ing sub­stan­dard, fake and even harm­ful prod­ucts. These de­cep­tive mar­ket­ing prac­tices have not only caused eco­nomic losses to the el­derly, but may also con­sti­tute a threat to their health, which has be­come a se­ri­ous so­cial prob­lem. Cases of el­derly peo­ple be­ing de­ceived of their sav­ings have mush­roomed across the coun­try, en­dan­ger­ing mar­ket or­der and so­cial se­cu­rity.

After the ex­po­sure of the Quan­jian case, a to­tal of 13 gov­ern­ment de­part­ments in­clud­ing the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Mar­ket Reg­u­la­tion, the Min­istry of Pub­lic Se­cu­rity and the Na­tional Med­i­cal Prod­ucts Ad­min­is­tra­tion made a joint de­ci­sion that start­ing from Jan­uary 8, 2019, they would be­gin a joint 100-day cam­paign aimed at clean­ing up the chaotic health­care mar­ket.

It is cer­tainly com­mend­able for the gov­ern­ment to quickly crack down ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the health­care prod­ucts mar­ket. How­ever, in the mean­time, an all-out ef­fort is needed to fa­cil­i­tate the es­tab­lish­ment of a long-term mech­a­nism to en­sure the health­care prod­ucts mar­ket re­mains un­der strict and ef­fi­cient reg­u­la­tion. Specif­i­cally, the pro­duc­tion process of health­care prod­ucts must be sub­ject to strict su­per­vi­sion, and any in­clu­sion of pro­hib­ited in­gre­di­ents must be elim­i­nated. Mean­while, prod­uct iden­ti­fi­ca­tion must be strictly re­viewed to avoid mis­lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing; and law en­force­ment must be strength­ened to ef­fec­tively reg­u­late the mar­ket in or­der to en­sure the safety of peo­ple’s wel­fare and prop­er­ties.

In ad­di­tion, for a long time, there has been a le­gal def­i­ni­tion and le­gal ba­sis for the reg­u­la­tion of health foods in China. The lack of cor­re­spond­ing laws and reg­u­la­tions for health­care prod­ucts has posed dif­fi­cul­ties for mar­ket su­per­vi­sion, which has be­come a gray zone for law en­force­ment. Thus, while crack­ing down on il­le­gal sales of health­care prod­ucts, au­thor­i­ties are ad­vised to set up spe­cific in­dus­try stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions to put an end to mis­lead­ing and false ad­ver­tis­ing about health­care prod­ucts.

Last but not the least, reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties should also im­prove the sci­en­tific aware­ness of the pub­lic through bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion. It is es­sen­tial for the pub­lic, es­pe­cially the el­derly, to rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ences be­tween med­i­cal care and health­care, and not to fall into the trap of the so-called “medicine and food ho­mol­ogy.” They need to know that no health­care prod­ucts can sub­sti­tute med­i­cal treat­ment when they fall ill.

The au­thor is a re­porter with the Global Times. bi­zopin­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Xia Qing/GT

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