Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Drug ads on radio exaggerated: study

OUTLANDISH CLAIMS An investigation revealed that radio advertisements for many drugs exaggerated their efficacy and that others were licensed as foods

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

An investigation into radio advertisements of licensed food and drugs found a disturbing number of outlandish claims as well as potentially dangerous products, the Department of Health said.

The Federation for the Welfare of the Elderly, which conducted the investigation at the department's request, monitored 56 stations for a total of 1,792 hours.

During that period the federation recorded 552 products promoted as medicine. Of those, 106 were registered as food products but sold as medicine on air.

Some of the products were licensed Chinese medicine, but were described in ways that exaggerated their efficacy or deviated from their stated purpose, the federation said.

For example, Long-de Five-Benefits Pill is registered as a Chinese drug that "promotes energy, qi, spirit and power" and is "good for the kidney." However, it was advertised on radio as "Han-lai five-benefits pill" and described as the "men's treasure -- the best product to promote love between husbands and wives."

Another product, dubbed the "Royal Bug," which claimed to protect the male prostate was found to contain only soy isoflavones.

"Despite the fact that many of these products have valid licenses as foods or herbal medicine, the way they're marketed as miracle cures is misleading and illegal," federation secretary-general Wu Yu-chin (吳玉琴) said.

The research showed that 14 percent of the 552 products claim to heal bones and muscles, making this the most popular category.

Claims of improving heart circulation and liver function followed at 11.8 percent and 10.7 percent respectively.

"A large number of these licensed drugs are aimed at the elderly," Wu said.

"Family members need to regularly check the health routine of the elderly to make sure they have not been taken in by exaggerated ads," Wu said.

Ads for medicine that exaggerate their efficacy are subject to fines of NT$30,000 to NT$150,000, while those marketing foods as drugs may be fined NT$600,000 to NT$25 million, as stipulated in the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法), health officials said.

A follow-up investigation with a product sampling of 31 found one that claimed to be Chinese herbal medicine, but contained the Western medicine ingredient Indomethacin.

"This [type of ad] would incur an even more serious penalty than ads that exaggerate [their medical efficacy]," Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs Director Liao Chi-chou (廖繼洲) said. "Food sold as medicine might cause indirect harm by delaying proper treatment, but the abuse of pharmaceutical agents with possibly potent side-effects could cause far greater damage."

Liao said that manufacturers of the product could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act (藥事法).

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