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Spotted an illegal advertisement? What should you do?

You have probably seen advertisements of miracle cures, a pill to treat cancer and a drink to help you lose 10kg in 5 days. Do you really think they work? It is so easy to believe everything we read or see on the internet or TV that sounds hopeful, especially when we are ill and desperate for treatment. Over the past decade, pharmaceutical and healthcare related advertisements are becoming increasingly common and in a bad way, effective too. While responsible promotion of medicines and healthcare services or products can inform and educate, illegal advertisements have the potential to negatively influence treatment decisions and endanger lives. Everyday, innocent consumers unknowingly fall prey to unapproved healthcare products and medicines commercials and waste hundreds of ringgit on a number of products they choose through illegal advertising. At best, these products do not work and are simply a waste of money. At worst, they are dangerous and they might prevent the consumers from getting the treatment they really need. Many of these products that they willingly take are unproven and unsafe, fraudulently marketed and even counterfeited which will inevitably put them at a tremendous risk of serious harm and even death.

What is illegal advertisement?

The advertising and promotion of medical or healthcare products in Malaysia is primarily regulated by the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act, 1956 (MASA 1956). Illegal advertisement is simply any advertisement that contravenes such act and therefore prohibited and disapproved by the Medicine Advertisement Board (MAB) which is an agency of the Pharmaceutical Service Division of the Ministry of Health whose role is to review and preclear healthcare product advertisement before it may be made public.

How to spot illegal advertisements and false claims

The best way to avoid falling prey to false or misleading advertisements containing medical claims is to ensure that it has a KKLIU approval number before reading it. Each MAB approved advertisement will be given a serial number which must be displayed on the advertisement for example, KKLIU/1234/ABCDE. If an advertisement has this number, one can be assured that it has undergone rigorous scrutiny such as screening, verification and evaluation by the secretariat of MAB prior to approval.

Advertisements of healthcare related products other than registered medicines and health services, such as food, health beverages, medical devices and cosmetics are not vetted by MAB and therefore will not display a KKLIU number. However, these advertisements must comply with the Food Act 1983 and Medical Device Act 2012 respectively and should not carry any medical claim at all.

Here are some tips to help consumers identify rip-offs advertisements.

  • One product does it all. Generally, one pill will not treat or cure multiple different illnesses. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of unrelated diseases, especially serious ones, such as cancer and diabetes which in reality have no cures, other than regular therapies to help manage them.
    In fact, Section 3 of the MASA generally prohibits the advertisement of health care products for the treatment, prevention or diagnosis of the following specific disease or condition:

    1. Diseases or defects of the kidney
    2. Diseases or defects of the heart
    3. Diabetes
    4. Epilepsy or fits
    5. Paralysis
    6. Tuberculosis
    7. Asthma
    8. Leprosy
    9. Cancer
    10. Deafness
    11. Drug addiction
    12. Hernia or rupture
    13. Diseases of the eye
    14. Hypertension
    15. Mental Disorder
    16. Infertility
    17. Frigidity
    18. Impairment of the sexual function or impotency
    19. Venereal disease (cth: AIDS)
    20. Nervous debility, or other complaint or infirmity, arising from or relating to sexual intercourse
  • Personal testimonials. It is easy to believe what others say about their experiences. However, separating cause and effect from coincidence can be tricky. Success stories, such as, “It cured my cancer” or “My tumours are gone,” are easily made up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence. Even if the product works, it may be due to the presence of prescription drug ingredients that may be prohibited in the first place. In such cases, the products may be associated with dangerous side-effects.
  • Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can actually be treated quickly, even with legitimate products. Beware of language such as, “lose weight while you sleep” or “eliminate skin cancer in days.”
  • “All natural.” No product is 100% safe and just because a product is called “natural” does not mean it is better. Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can even kill when consumed. Natural products may also cause problems such as allergy and drug-herb interactions. What is more, sometimes products promoted as “all natural” were found to contain hidden and dangerously high doses of drug ingredients.
  • “Miracle cures.” Always use common sense and add a healthy dose of scepticism when confronted with exaggerated benefits. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If miracle cures really exist, then nobody in this world would be fat or have cancer.

What to do when you see one

In its effort to ensure that all medicine and healthcare related advertisements are legitimate, accurate and not misleading, the Pharmacy Enforcement Division is asking the public to recognize and report.

  1. Recognize

    The public is urged to be aware of the many advertisements and promotions that they see every day and learn how to distinguish misleading or illegal information. The public can surf www.pharmacy.gov.my » Services » e-Services to check whether an advertisement has an approval by the MAB or not. This site shows a list of advertisements approved.

  2. Report

    Help to stop violations by reporting advertisements and messages that may be false or misleading. If you think that an advertisement violates the law by being false, misleading, or lacking in “fair balance,” you may report such advertisement to the Pharmaceutical Services Division by sending a formal complaint or email. The Pharmacy Enforcement Unit will evaluate all the reports received and should any violations of the regulations be found, action will be taken to stop the misleading promotions.

Last Reviewed : 05 June 2015
Writer/Translator : Syazana Akmal bt. Ahmad Kamal
Accreditor : Muhammad Lukmani bin Ibrahim

 

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