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Illegal Health Supplements Face Crackdown
China has launched a nationwide crackdown on illegal practices among health supplement makers like adding pharmaceutical substances to slimming pills or exaggerating their function.

Tonic foods designed to help weight loss, increase vigor, improve sexual performance, promote viability or make people look beautiful would be major items for investigation, the Ministry of Health announced Tuesday.

Tonic foods are defined in China as those taken by specific groups of people to improve bodily functions, but not for therapeutic purposes.

China has seen a boom in pro-health supplements in recent decades along with rapid improvements in average living standards and public awareness of health promotion.

Aiming to regulate the market, the government introduced regulations on tonic foods in 1996, which stipulated the monitoring of products from application for health authority approval, to production, retailing and advertising.

Despite that, many illegal practices by producers and retailers had made the enormously-profitable market rather chaotic, according to ministry officials.

Some firms exaggerated the health-promotion functions of their products through highly-colored advertising or by altering the instructions and labels to promote buying, said Wang Jianrong, an official with the ministry's department of law and supervision.

Some ignored strict rules and added pharmaceutical substances, which might help the product, meet customer demands for faster and obvious results, but are often potentially dangerous.

Out of 13 brands of tonic food banned by the ministry, eight are diet capsules or pills containing fenfluramine, which used to be a component of slimming drugs but was outlawed in 1997 after it was linked to heart valve damage.

Four other "nutritious drinks" or "vigor pills" were found to contain sildenafil citrate, the major component of the anti-impotence drug Viagra.

"Illegal activities have not only seriously misled customers, but also damaged the reputation of the whole industry," said Wang.

Departments of public health and market management will pay special attention to exaggerated advertising from now on.

Businesses which had altered their products' instructions and labels would have to correct them by the end of September, otherwise face closure, Wang said.

(Xinhua News Agency July 31, 2002)

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