More than 300 investigations into illegal practices in the health products market have been launched since a national crackdown on the scandal-plagued industry began on Jan 8, the State Administration for Market Regulation said on Jan 30.
The estimated commercial value of the products involved surpasses 45 million yuan ($6.7 million), Yan Jun, head of the administration’s department in charge of price supervision and countering unfair competition, said at a news conference.
He said about 300 pieces of online news with fake health product promotions have been removed, and 130 websites, apps and official accounts across social media platforms have been shut down or temporarily suspended pending corrections.
Thirteen central government departments, including the top market regulator, initiated the three-month campaign following a series of media reports exposed irregularities in the health-products industry.
In the most high-profile case, which involves Tianjin-based Quanjian Nature Medicine Technology Development, 18 people were detained on Jan 7 on suspicion of pyramid selling and false advertising.
Yan added that the administration has recently ordered local market regulators across nine provinces and municipalities where the company has been conducting direct sales to step up scrutiny of the company.
During the campaign, which is expected to last until late March, 54,000 inspectors have scoured 16,000 stores that sell health products; 4,200 communities, parks and squares; 2,600 hotels; and 2,500 tourist attractions, rural markets and urban-rural fringes.
“The campaign has so far handled 1,100 complaints from consumers and retrieved property worth 8.4 million yuan for them,” he said.
In further investigations, authorities will focus on areas most likely to feature promotions of health products, such as public parks, and target stores attempting to mislead the elderly and the sick.
“Violators have used tricky methods to derail our inspections. For instance, some would organize events in the early hours before law enforcement officers begin working, and in covert places,” Yan said.
He said it is also difficult to obtain evidence as most fraudulent practices are conducted through verbal conversations.
“We will formulate new systems to encourage and reward whistleblowers who are able to provide leads on the malpractice that’s rampant in the health products market,” he said.
On Jan 29, the administration and the Ministry of Commerce summoned 91 direct-selling enterprises. They were ordered to ensure the quality of their products and refrain from exaggerating product benefits.
These companies were also urged to improve internal management and offer channels to handle customer complaints and requests for returns and exchanges.