JAPAN - The Consumer Affairs Agency imposed administrative punishments last month on 17 companies for violating the law to prevent misleading presentation by exaggerating the effects of their pharmaceutical products that supposedly sterilize living spaces.
The agency said the companies failed to present reasonable data to prove the effectiveness of their products.
The 25 products in question were so popular that they disappeared from store shelves during the flu season. How did the makers evaluate their effectiveness before marketing them?
Experiment data 'lacking'
All of the products contain chlorine dioxide, which has antiseptic effects and is used to sterilize water in swimming pools, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
However, since the chemical substance is not certified as either medicine or quasi-medicine, advertising for products containing chlorine dioxide is not permitted to claim such effects as preventing infectious diseases by killing viruses.
Thus, pharmaceutical firms and other manufacturers have marketed such products as general merchandise, labeling them as effective for "sterilization."
The best seller among the 25 products is Cleverin Gel, manufactured by Taiko Pharmaceutical Co. The Osaka-based firm spent more than ¥900 million over the five years through fiscal 2012 to prove the product's sterilizing and odour-eliminating effects.
According to the company, Cleverin Gel was tested by placing it in a naturally ventilated apartment room, whereupon it was confirmed that its chlorine dioxide had spread evenly within the space.
Using an enclosed space as wide as a standard living room, the company verified that the chlorine dioxide at a density level equal to the product which could kill 99 per cent of airborne germs in an hour.
However, the consumer agency concluded that the company conducted the experiments without considering air currents and movement of people in and out of the room.
In response to the agency, a Taiko official said the firm "accepts the agency's judgment that our experiments did not provide sufficient data [to prove effectiveness]. We'll conduct more experiments under various conditions to improve the product's labeling."
The company also said it published an ad, in which Cleverin Gel was described as having germ-killing effects, four days after the agency imposed the administrative punishment on it only because Taiko wanted consumers to learn about its continued efforts to improve the product. However, the agency found the action to be a problem.
Tests to prove the effectiveness of Ohki Pharmaceutical Co.'s Uiru-ofu-baria-a portable product that comes with a neck strap-were also basically conducted in enclosed spaces.
An official of the firm admitted that its labeling for the product's "sterilization" effects was exaggerated and that a gap existed between the test conditions and the actual environment in which the agency believes such products would be used.
While Taiko and Ohki conducted their own tests, the other 15 companies include some that have never evaluated their products' effectiveness.
Aside from the 17 companies, Denso Corp., the maker of Sharyo-yo Cleverin (Cleverin for vehicles, literally)-a chloride dioxide product it jointly developed with Taiko-made the unusual move of posting a notice on its website insisting that the product's sterilization effectiveness has been proven, highlighting the difference between Sharyo-yo Cleverin and other sterilization products for living spaces.