The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has seized more than 39,000 units of illegal health products – believed to have an estimated street value of over SGD133,000 – during an operation against online retailers from 12 to 19 September.

The products included weight-loss products, sexual enhancement drugs and cosmetics, each unit costing SGD12 to SGD70.

Weight-loss products ranged from pills to beverages were marketed with claims such as “100% natural”, “herbal ingredients” and “quick effect”. However, 90% of the weight-loss products that were seized contained the banned substance, sibutramine.

Sibutramine was available in Singapore as a prescription-only weight-loss drug until 2010, as an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes has been reported.

From 2011 to May this year, HSA has received five reports of adverse reactions associated with the substance such as hallucinations, hearing of voices, palpitations and breathlessness. However, in 35 weight-loss products sold between 2012 and 2016, sibutramine was still present.

Cosmetic item resurfaces with new packaging

Tati Skincare is allegedly said to have high levels of mercury and other potent banned ingredients. Photo credit: HSA
Tati Skincare is allegedly said to have high levels of mercury and other potent banned ingredients. Photo credit: HSA

One of the items seized is a face cream which the HSA warned the public against in June 2017. However, the brand resurfaced this month with a new packaging and was being advertised as a “new and improved Tati Skincare”.

Tati Skincare is an illegal cosmetic product that contains high levels of mercury and potent prohibited ingredients, such as hydroquinone and tretinoin. Analysis further revealed that the “new” product still contained potent ingredients found in the original version. Repackaging the same product is certainly not something new – in fact, it is a common tactic used by illegal manufacturers in an attempt to evade authorities’ detection and entice consumers. The HSA has since requested website administrators to remove the advertisements.

Three sellers who advertised these illegal products online have been assisting the HSA in investigations as the illegal sales of lifestyle health products online have been a recurring problem.

“While HSA continues in its effort to disrupt the online sale of illegal health products, consumers also play an important role in safeguarding their own health by being aware of the risks associated with Internet purchase of health products,” said Associate Professor Chan Cheng Leng, group director of HSA’s Health Products Regulation Group.

HSA reminds sellers to take caution against illegal products

Operation Pangea, now in its 10th instalment, is a global operation coordinated by INTERPOL to detect and disrupt the sale of illegal health products online. Local e-commerce websites and online forums have willingly co-operated with the HSA to remove posts that sell illegal health products.

The HSA reiterated in a statement, “It is illegal to import and sell prescription medicines without a licence. Sellers should be cautious when sourcing for health products to sell and are reminded of their responsibility in ensuring the safety of the products and adherence to local legislation prior to introducing them to the market."

Anyone who supplies illegal health products is liable to prosecution and, if convicted, may face a jail term of up to three years, and/or fined up to SGD100,000.

Members of the public who encounter illegal, counterfeit or other suspicious health products are also encouraged to contact the enforcement branch of HSA. MIMS

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