Regulations needed for online supplement sales

September 10, 2018 - 09:00

New weight loss products have flooded the market, with companies aiming to take advantage of peoples’ desire to have a slim body without the need for strict diets or strenuous exercise.

A weight loss product that has yet to obtain a permit of circulation by authorised agencies is still on sale now via social networking sites. — Photo
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — New weight loss products have flooded the market, with companies aiming to take advantage of peoples’ desire to have a slim body without the need for strict diets or strenuous exercise.

However, not all of the pills achieve the “magical” results their advertising touts, and some can even cause serious illness according to a report by Lao Động (Labour) Newspaper.

Nguyễn Thị H, a 27-year-old office worker living in Hà Nội’s Nam Từ Liêm District, had an experience that illustrates the potential consequences of misleading advertising and lax regulations.

According to the report, she hoped to regain the slender figure she had before giving birth to her first child. Trusting in an online advertisement, she spent VNĐ500,000 (US$22) on a product that claimed it could help her lose three to six kilogrammes without dieting.

She fell ill after taking four boxes of the treatment, however, in addition to diarrhea and vomiting for days on end.

“I lost some weight, but I always felt terrible. I was tired and flatulent. My skin felt dry,” she told the paper.

Trịnh Thúy P, a middle-aged housewife in Thanh Xuân District, had a similar tale to tell.

In her first month using an herbal weight loss tea that was supposed to have no side effects, she indeed ridded herself of three kilogrammes without any issues. But after continued use, she started to notice it was having a negative impacts on her well-being.

“I lost my appetite, I was frequently dizzy and my whole body ached,” she said.

Her doctor diagnosed an electrolyte disorder caused by the tea.

Earlier this month, the Food Safety Administration fined Cường Anh Authentic Company and Thảo Mộc Thiên Nhiên Hồng Sâm QM Company nearly VNĐ100 million (US$ 4,300) for violating food safety regulations.

Another recent administration decision banned a weight loss pill called X2, manufactured by Hoài Thương Organic Company, for lacking proper licences.

X2 was one of the growing number of unlicensed products brought to market to target middle-aged women.

The paper’s report found that most weight loss products are sold on social media.

There are four or five popular brands of Vietnamese herbal weight loss tea on Facebook, often priced as low as VNĐ1 million ($43) per package.

Imported weight loss pills are also common, though they sometimes cost more than their domestic herbal counterparts.

Advertising materials for these products claim they help detoxify the body, maintain clear skin and improve liver and kidney health. Some go farther, asserting they can safely help customers lose up to six kilogrammes in as little as 15 days.

The online supplement food marketplace is largely unregulated, meaning that advertising claims go unchecked.

Some companies have also set up multi-level marketing schemes through social media, inviting customers to buy a large supply of supplements to sell to friends. The companies attract distributors by promising high commissions, but how much a distributor makes is dependent on the volume he or she sells.

This model could be fairly described as a pyramid scheme. Because distributors need to buy their stock upfront, they are often left with excess supplements they will struggle to sell.

Given the pervasiveness of misleading advertising in the unregulated online marketplace, many are calling for authorities to exercise more stringent control over the supplement industry. — VNS