Tue, January 13, 2009
Lifestyle > Health

Experts: Traditional Chinese medicine under attack from illegal ads

2009-01-13 13:09:02 GMT2009-01-13 21:09:02 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIJING, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) experts have called for advertising watchdogs to step up the eradication of ads for quack remedies and treatments.

The call comes after figures from the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine show a fall in the number of advertising licenses revoked for false and misleading promotions.

Illegal ads for TCM were still rampant and seriously damaged the reputation of the whole profession, experts said on Tuesday, the day after Vice Health Minister Wang Guoqiang revealed the authorities had stopped 2,274 illegal TCM advertisements in 2008.

Last year, 225 websites posting illegal TCM ads were closed and83 TCM medical institutions were ordered to stop their operations, said Wang.

"Many people who trust traditional herbal treatments can be easily fooled by illegal TCM ads," said Professor Li Pengtao, of the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

"Crackdown campaigns are encouraging and helpful, but the failure to effectively prohibit of false and misleading TCM ads is still a hidden danger to public health," Li said.

According to China's Drug Administration Law, each medical advertisement must be approved by drug regulators before it is published.

However, illegal ads for drugs, medical equipment and health supplements can be found on the Internet, satellite TV stations and newspapers. Many gave false, exaggerated or misleading information as to the their properties regarding various ailments, said Li.

"Any ads without approval registration numbers are illegal, and those providing fraudulent information do most harm."

Li told Xinhua many of his diabetes patients had bought fake drugs claiming to lower blood sugar levels.

"They saw misleading ads, and bought cheap drugs that did not work at all, and they missed the best moment to receive proper treatment," Li said.

In some cases, ad content was changed to incorporate false or exaggerating information after receiving approval for publication, but the publishing media failed to properly examine it.

Associate professor Lu Jinguo, of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, said illegal ads hurt the whole industry as many people started to doubt the effectiveness of traditional medicine.

"Illegal TCM ads are full of unscientific and exaggerating statements, and have damaged the public image of TCM," Lu said.

Lu and his colleagues conducted a survey of experts, government officials and the public last year that showed misleading TCM ads was a part of the reason why some people denied TCM treatment.

The media was mainly to blame for the long-standing problem of illegal ads, because their advertising examiners failed in their duty to establish the validity of ads, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SATCM) said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Some profit-driven media advertising departments open the doors to illegal TCM ads," said the statement.

A total of 42 TCM advertisement licenses were revoked on the grounds of illicit content last year, but the total number approved is unknown. In 2007, the authorities approved 16,365 medical ads, and 122 licenses were revoked.

The SATCM pledged to further negotiate with media regulators this year to punish irresponsible advertising examiners and eradicate illegal ads.

"It's an uphill task fighting illegal TCM ads, and it demands particular effort from the media," Lu said.

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