The Department of Consumer Protection of the Executive Yuan (abbreviated as the DCP) has conducted inspections on the quality, labeling and advertisements of anti-epidemic products sold on the market (including physical and online stores). Purchased as samples were 15 alcohol-based hand sanitizers (hereinafter referred to as alcoholic hand sanitizers). Among them, 2 were medical products and both met the requirements. The other 13 were general products, of which 7 did not meet the requirements for labeling and advertising according to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, 8 failed to meet the standards of the Commodity Labeling Act. In addition, checked were 11 online advertisements for products sold on the Internet claiming such functions as anti-bacterial, sterilization, and anti-virus (hereinafter referred to as Internet advertisements for anti-epidemic products), of which 4 did not meet the requirements.
Due to the COVID-19 panidemic, commercially available products claiming antibacterial and sterilization have become hot selling items, especially the hand sanitizers that have turned into essential personal items, many of which even claim to be antibacterial, antiseptic, bacteriostasis-inducing, antiviral, and so on. However, it is difficult to distinguish between truth and false, causing a huge impact on consumer rights. From May to June 2020, the DCP sampled, at the physical and online stores in northern Taiwan, 15 alcoholic hand sanitizers for testing their methanol content, labeling and advertising. Moreover, 11 advertisements on the Internet for anti-epidemic products were also reviewed according to the Environmental Agents Control Act and the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act. The results of the tests and checks are as follows:
- Commercially purchased anti-epidemic products (alcoholic hand sanitizers):
- Medicaments : All meet the requirements.
- General merchandise:
- Failure to meet the requirements of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act: 7 pieces, all of which involved the pictorial or literal description or propaganda regarding the medical efficacy of products other than the medicaments defined in this Act.
- Quality: No methanol was detected in all the 13 pieces.
- Labeling: 5 pieces were compliant with regulations, while 8 pieces were not; main violations were as follows:
(i) Incomplete information on manufacturers and contractors: 7 pieces.
(ii) Unlabeled manufacturing date: 3 pieces.
(iii) No Chinese labeling on main ingredients: 2 pieces.
- Online advertising for anti-epidemic products:
- Failure to comply with the Environmental Agents Control Act: 1 piece, failing to obtain an environmental agent permit.
- Failure to comply with the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act: 4 pieces, all of which were involved in the literal description or propaganda for the medical efficacy of non-medical products.
Regarding the violations found in this inspection, for violations of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has transferred the failed cases to the local health competent authorities for investigation and punishment in accordance with Articles 69 and 91(2) of this Act, for violations of the Environmental Agents Control Act, the Environmental Protection Administration has transferred the cases to the local competent authorities to remove the illegal advertising page, impose a fine of NT$ 60,000 on those in violation of Article 32 of the Environmental Agents Control Act and order the vendors who did not hold an environmental agent permit to rectify the defect within a given time limit, for violations of the Commodity Labeling Act, the Ministry of Economic Affairs' Central Region Office has transferred those cases to the local competent authorities to command the traders to rectify the defects within a given time limit in accordance with Article 15 of this Act; otherwise, they shall be imposed with a fine in an amount not less than NT$ 20,000 but not more than NTD 200,000, and this fine may be assessed consecutively on a time-by-time basis until a satisfactory correction.
The DCP said that the relevant competent authorities shall urge the suppliers in question to correct their violations as soon as possible and reinforce their inspection on the labeling and advertising of commercially available antibacterial products. Moreover, the Ministry of Economic Affairs is also urged to deliberate over the feasibility of establishing more stringent labeling standards to protect the rights and interests of consumers. Meanwhile, consumers are also reminded that when purchasing antibacterial-related products on the market, they should pay attention to whether the labeling is correct and do not buy products with unclear labeling or unknown origin. The DCP also reminds the suppliers to comply with Article 69 of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, which stipulates that no pictorial or literal description or propaganda regarding the medical efficacy of any product other than the medicaments defined in this Act shall be made; otherwise, violators can be fined between NT$ 600,000 and NT$ 25 million, with the illegal items being confiscated and destroyed. So, don’t ever try the law.