By LAM LI AND LEE YUK PENG
JOHOR BARU: Distributors of slimming products who make unfounded claims in advertisements about the effectiveness of what they are selling will soon find themselves hauled up by the authorities.
Health Ministry parliament secretary S. Sothinathan said the ministry was monitoring daily the advertisements of slimming products in both the print and electronic media to identify misleading information.
"We will slowly but surely pin down advertisers who use fraudulent tactics, including baseless or exaggerated claims, to tempt consumers", he said after opening a health camp here yesterday.
Sothinathan said advertising gimmicks such as claims that consumers could shed a certain amount of weight within a specified period had made slimming products very appealing.
"We have to tighten the regulations to stop the trend of making extraordinary claims on the effectiveness of slimming products.
"The ministry is reviewing the scope of acceptable publicity material and it's most likely that the content of advertisements will be narrowed to carrying only the ingredients involved and proven qualities", he said.
Slimming products have come under the spotlight following news of the China-made Slim10 product, which contains flenfluramine, which claimed a life and caused liver failure among Singaporeans, including television artiste Andrea De Cruz.
Last week, Malaysia banned Bestrim, another herbal-based slimming product, which contains flenfluramine as well as nicotinamide and caffeine.
Sothinathan said the new regulations would be ready as soon as possible, adding that the ministry viewed this as a matter of urgency because it involved public health.
On the safety of traditional or herbal slimming teas, he said the products were classified as health drinks and were not required to be registered with the Drug Control Authority.
"However, as a precautionary measure, we will collect samples for testing and analysis to ascertain if they contain undesirable minerals or chemicals", he said.
In March, Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng said that the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act, 1956 would be reviewed to impose stiffer penalties and broaden the scope of those who could be held liable for making fraudulent claims about medical and health products.
In Kuala Lumpur, ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Ismail Merican said taking slimming pills should be the last resort for those who want to lose weight.
He said drugs should only be taken after disciplined, regular physical exercise, and a controlled diet did not work.
There is no shortcut to becoming slim. You have to sweat (it out).
"Take the opportunity to exercise if you are busy. Walk up the stairs in the office instead of taking the lift", he said in an interview.
Dr Ismail, who is founder-president of the Malaysian Society for the Study of Obesity, also cautioned that many who took slimming pills had to endure unpleasant side effects such as oily spotting, which required the wearing of adult diapers.
"Some can't even attend functions as a result of that", he said.
Other side effects include abdominal discomfort, oily stools and more serious ailments such as liver failure and heart problems.
He said even registered drugs used to treat obesity had their side effects although some were effective.
"Make sure that the drugs have stood the test of time", he said.
- The Star (June 10, 2002)