Detained doctor case sparks hot debate

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The detention of a doctor who was accused of damaging the reputation of a health liquor maker in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region has aroused heated debate, with the public calling for severe punishments for those who mislead consumers about health-related products.

Tan Qindong, who holds a master's degree in anesthesiology, was detained for more than three months for posting an online article saying that a liquor product made by Hongmao Pharmaceutical Co in Liangcheng county could be toxic.

Tan was released on bail on Tuesday, following an order by the region's top prosecuting authority, which said in a statement on Tuesday that a review had found insufficient evidence to support criminal accusations against Tan. Local prosecutors in Liangcheng were instructed to send the case back to local police for further investigation.

Tan, 39, who holds a master's degree in anesthesiology and lives in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, was detained in January by police from Liangcheng after he posted an online piece saying that the product's beneficial effects were exaggerated and that it could be toxic.

The case has stirred heated public debate in the past few days over possible abuse of power by the Liangcheng police, as well as over irregularities in the advertising of medicines and products claiming to have beneficial effects.

Misleading advertising for drugs or other healthcare products has deceived many people, and authorities should punish such activities harshly to ensure drug and food safety, Xinhua News Agency wrote in a commentary.

A statement released by the State Administration for Market Regulation on Tuesday said healthcare product producers should use clear, precise labeling that conforms to standards to avoid misleading consumers.

The administration also urged authorities in Inner Mongolia to intensify their inspections and oversight of Hongmao's advertising.

The administration said it monitored 137 reports of the liquor's side effects between 2004 and 2017. Symptoms included dizziness, stomach aches and nausea.

The product is an over-the-counter drug certified by the administration, but it is not suitable for everyone and may cause serious harm to some people, it said.

According to a report by Health Times in Beijing, sales of the liquor were suspended dozens of times by authorities across China because advertisements exaggerated its benefits.

Li Enze, a lawyer at Beijing Impact Law Firm, said irregularities are still common in advertisements promoting drugs and health foods in China.

"Some over-the-counter drugs, such as the liquor product produced by Hongmao, are advertised as healthcare foods to give the public the impression that they can be used by everyone," he said. "Advertisements for some health foods, such as certain beverages and biscuits, claim medicinal effects."

Li said local protectionism has caused drug authorities to ease their scrutiny over the makers of drug or health food products within their jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, false advertising has also been linked with some television stations and other media, which rely on advertising for revenue, he said.

He said more severe punishments for violations should be employed to effectively deter them, against both producers and sellers.

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