Bitter pills for celebrities

By Xu Tianran Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-30 23:53:00

Youkadan, a cold remedy for children, is produced by the Renhe Group in Jiangxi Province. Photos: CFP

Youkadan, a cold remedy for children, is produced by the Renhe Group in Jiangxi Province. Photos: CFP



A Chinese actress who endorsed a cold remedy for children, which according to rumors swirling around microblogs is "proven to be poisonous to children's livers," has received unexpected praise after stating that she will never again endorse any medicine products.

The claim, made by sitcom actress Song Dandan on Friday, has led to public debate over whether celebrities should be involved in promoting medicine, though the company has denied the medicine is harmful. Song made these statements after reading a popular microblog thread that stated that Youkadan, a cold remedy for children produced by the Renhe Group in Jiangxi Province, is dangerous to children's livers. The company has now changed the medicine's instructions to explicitly state it should not be used on children below one year old.

"I'm surprised to hear that Youkadan is harmful to children's health. My agent and I were extremely cautious when considering endorsing this medicine and we had heard that the manufacturer and medicine authorities had done comprehensive checks of the medicine," Song said on her microblog.

"If the claim on the Internet is true, I will sincerely apologize to customers through the media," she said, swearing that she will never again endorse any medicine products as she could not be sure of the products' true quality and nature.

Company clears its name

The Renhe Group said on Saturday that they had changed Youkadan's medical instructions according to a State Food and Drug Administration's notice regarding drugs that contain adamantanamine hydrochloride.

Youkadan is not poisonous to children's livers, the Renhe Group claimed, adding that the administration decided to ban the use of the adamantanamine on children below one year old "due to a lack of evidence determining the effect and safety of the adamantanamine on the age group."

As yet, there have been no statements regarding what health problems Youkadan might cause if used on children under one year old.

The food and drug authority in Jiangxi Province corroborated Renhe's claims on Sunday, saying that the State Food and Drug Administration's notice does not target Renhe's Youkadan, but is focused on all over-the-counter drugs that contain adamantanamine hydrochloride.

"Modifying instructions is a routine task of the food and drug authorities and it does not mean that Youkadan has a quality problem. Youkadan can be sold as usual," the Jiangxi Food and Drug Administration Bureau told the Xinhua News Agency.

Though the Renhe Group's reputation has been cleared by the authorities, the episode nevertheless led to appeals that celebrities should refrain from endorsing food and medical products.

Song, who has played the role of a caring, responsible mother in sitcoms, also won the public's sympathy as she was one of the few celebrities that stood out and tried to shoulder her responsibility for endorsing a brand.

"I think Song's oath not to endorse medical products anymore is very responsible, because celebrities have a huge influence but don't have the means to check whether the products would be harmful to people," Hu Yuan, a pregnant woman in Beijing, said. "Celebrities should not abuse their influence to pursue personal wealth," she added.

"It's fine for celebrities to endorse any product they wish because it is not their job to determine a product's quality. But given the food safety issues and irregularities in China's medical and health care product markets, they should protect their reputation and not endorse products that look fishy," Shen Dong, a TV director in Beijing, told the Global Times.

Risky business

The media and the public have long been demanding celebrities stop endorsing food and medical products, especially after the screening of TV advertisements for the Beijing Xinxing Hospital, which cheated patients by claiming to be able to cure infertility, were banned nationwide in 2004. Actors Tang Guoqiang, famous for playing the role of Chairman Mao Zedong in several movies and TV series, and Xie Xiaodong, who has performed in Spring Festival gala shows, also got burned for acting in the advertisement.

Song Dandan's move may be worthy of praise, but the law does not forbid celebrities from endorsing any products, Qiu Baochang, president of the legal panel at the China Consumers' Association, told the Global Times, adding that celebrities only face punishment after they are caught endorsing illegal products.

"The liability for celebrities was a blind spot before the Food Safety Law came into effect on June 1, 2009, which clearly stated that individuals who recommend food to consumers in false advertisements shall bear joint liability along with producers and business operators," said Qiu.

Zhang Guoli, an entertainment star, became the first to be sued in 2009 after the Food Safety Law took effect. He was sued for endorsing a health care product accused of cheating customers.

On May 26, 2009, a legal interpretation was issued from the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, stipulating that any individuals that assist in the sale of fake drugs by advertising them will be treated as accomplices.

When dealing with drug advertisements, celebrities should not only check the medicine's drug approval number, but also consult professionals to check the credentials of the medicine and its producers' qualifications and quality, Zhang Yongjian, a food and drug expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

In April 2012, the Xiuzheng Pharmaceutical Group, a leading Chinese drug maker, was revealed to have been buying capsules containing toxic chemicals made by illegal drug makers. Though all the medicines involved had received approval from the authorities, the ten celebrities were still criticized for abusing their influence to endorse Xiuzheng's products.


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