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Celebs held responsible for their ads

CELEBRITIES who knowingly advertise bogus or substandard drugs could face criminal charges - and so could the media, according to a judicial interpretation issued yesterday.

Under a decision announced by the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, celebrities who are aware that the pharmaceutical products they promote are fake or substandard will be held liable for any damages and could be charged as co-defendants in criminal actions.

The media, including television and radio stations, newspapers and magazines, could face the same penalties if they knowingly publish advertisements for problem drugs.

Any ads for prescription drugs that don't carry a license number would be suspect, said Xiong Xuanguo, vice president of the Supreme People's Court.

Xiong said the ruling is an improvement to a 2001 version, which lists advertising campaigns for fake and substandard drugs as offenses.

But in the past, there was little authorities could do about fraudulent endorsements. Famous cross-talk actor Guo Degang, for instance, was found to have promoted a bogus "magical Tibetan tea" for weight loss in 2006.

"No big belly after three boxes of tea," Guo said.

The claim was false, the product had nothing to do with Tibetan tea, and its trademark had not been approved. But Guo refused to apologize and escaped punishment even after officials demanded the tea be removed from medicine stores throughout Beijing.

The new rule, which goes into effect today, is part of a crackdown on counterfeit and substandard drugs. Stricter monitoring and heavier penalties will also be introduced, Xiong said.

Strict penalties

And people using the Internet to sell counterfeit drugs in China will face severe penalties as the government steps up the fight against illegal sales.

Thirteen ministry-level departments met earlier his month to launch a year-long campaign that aims to cut distribution channels for fake drugs in the country.

A mechanism to coordinate the work of divergent departments has been introduced, said Shao Mingli, vice minister of health and the head of the State Food and Drug Administration.

He said pharmacies are strictly regulated but online dealers have now emerged as a new hotbed for counterfeit medicines. Illegal dealers post online advertisements to lure customers, who pay when the product is delivered. The new mechanism will enable law enforcement agencies to crack down on fake drugs from production to circulation by closing Websites that advertise the drugs and by suspending the bank and telephone accounts of companies involved in illegal trading.

Among China's horror stories, kidney failure killed 13 people in 2006 after they used a counterfeit injection. Five managers at the drug's producer, Qiqihar No. 2 Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, were given jail sentences ranging from four to seven years in April 2008.

Earlier this year, two patients died and nine others fell ill after taking a fake diabetes drug, which contained six times the normal dose of glibenclamide, a chemical used to help lower blood sugar. At least six people allegedly involved in the production and distribution of the drug were arrested.

In addition, a rabies vaccine made by a Liaoning Province pharmaceutical company was found to contain an illegal additive and caused 97 adverse reactions, with three of its victims becoming critically ill. Three suspects were detained.


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