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Here's why slimming product ads will now need the approval from the Ministry of Health

9 days ago Matdura S.

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This article is for general informational purposes only and is not meant to be used or construed as legal advice in any manner whatsoever. All articles have been scrutinized by a practicing lawyer to ensure accuracy.

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As most of us already know that besides good food, Malaysia is also well known for having one of the highest obesity rates in the world. It is also human nature to look for shortcuts – which is why, a lot people resort to slimming pills and products to lose weight within a short and unbelievable span of time. 

Right now, there are so many different local health products in the market, particularly slimming products that are being advertised all over Facebook and Instagram. Most of the time, the quality of these products are questionable.

Here’s a little backstory to help you understand the severity of this situation better...

Sometime in 2007, a Malaysian woman died due to kidney and heart problems after consuming slimming pills for approximately 5 months. Her death caused several bodies to put a stop to this billion dollar industry, which is growing rapidly in Malaysia. There are certain parties that have been working hard to ensure these hazardous slimming products are regulated properly across the country. 

Last week, our writers from ASKLEGAL were invited by the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (CMCF) to conduct an interview with their Executive Director, Mohd Mustaffa Fazil Mohd Abdan. He gave some valuable insight on the key amendments that were being made to the Content Code this year. 

Our writers with Mr Mustaffa Fazil

Now, before you start panicking about this “new” Code, let’s take a look at something first...

 

What is CMCF and the Content Code?

Image from Marketing Magazine Asia

Here’s a brief overview – CMCF is a body set up under Section 213(2) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA). Its membership comprises of industry players such as Internet Service Providers, advertisers, and content creators. Some of you might confuse CMCF with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

Which is why it’s worthwhile to note that they’re both completely separate bodies that work hand in hand to regulate content that Malaysians create and share across electronic mediums such as social media, TV, radios and other online platforms. 

So, one of CMCF’s major functions is to come up with the Content Code (which was created in 2004), to provide certain guidelines, standards, and practices for industry players to follow.

As we all know, the internet is constantly growing and changing. In order to evolve with the current trends and technology, the Content Code needs to be amended to suit the needs of Malaysians. There are actually 4 major amendments that are being made in the Code (we’ll explain the other 3 in brief later) but in this article, we’ll be focusing on advertising slimming products in Malaysia and how the Content Code is being amended to regulate this. 

So how exactly is the Content Code going to do this?

 

Slimming pills need to be medically approved before they can be advertised 

GIF from tenor.com

To make this easier, let’s categorize slimming products based on how they work. There are two types of categories for slimming products:

  • Slimming products that can be ingested: Pills, herbal teas & liquid/powder formulas.
  • Slimming products that are offered as services: Laser treatments, massages, heat induced treatments

The Content Code highlights the first category, which is the ingestion of slimming products. The second category which encompasses slimming services are regulated differently, and have separate licensing regulations expressed by the Medicine Advertisements Board (MAB). 

However, this isn’t the same for advertisements of slimming products that are consumed because most of the time, they are sold online on Facebook and Instagram by local vendors/agents.

And in most cases, some of these products may not even have proper permits and can be injurious to health. The last thing you want is to end up having serious health issues which can even lead to death due to the consumption of these products. Therefore, to prevent more people from falling into this “lose weight in 30 days” trap, the best way to go about is by regulating the Code to ensure all slimming ads that require ingestion will now need to be permitted by the Medicines Advertisements Board

So, how exactly does the Content Code apply here?

 

How do the regulations work?

Illegal slimming pills. Image from The Straits Times

Perhaps the amendment will be understood best if we looked at the unamended version first, which is stated under Part 4.0 of the Specific Guidelines (xviii)(q):

“Advertisements for products or services coming within the recognised character of, or specifically concerned with the following are not acceptable: 
(q) Slimming products, whether it is used orally or physical application.”

The proposed amendment in the Content Code is still stated under the same para in the Code but...has an added extension to it:

“Advertisements for products or services coming within the recognized character of, or specifically concerned with the following are not acceptable…
(q) Slimming products/whether it is used orally or physical application unless approved by the Medicine Advertisements Board, Ministry of Health Malaysia (K.K.L.I.U.) ...

Basically, the amendment in the Code provides that any advertisement for slimming products will now have to be validated by the Malaysian Medicine Advertisements Board (MAB) before being advertised by any party.  Online business advertisers who sell health products, particularly slimming products will now have to apply for the KKLIU from the MAB, and medicines need to be certified with the “MAL” registration number before being advertised. 

Here’s an example of what you need to look out for before consuming any type of medication:

Image from Portal MyHEALTH

Now, let’s just say you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, and you come across an advertisement that does not comply with the Content Code and the MAB. You can actually make a complaint directly to CMCF on their site to inform them about the illegal advertisement being circulated on the internet.

If an advertisement does not comply with the regulations of the Content Code, the seller/advertising agent can be punished under Para 8.1 of the Content Code which carries a fine up to RM50,000.00, a written a formal reproval and/or removal of the illegal advertisement posted on the account. 

But let’s just say you **occasionally buy slimming/beauty products from an Instagram page, does the Code state any penalties that will affect you?

 

You decide what’s best for you

Image from Know Your Meme

The main reason behind the amendment of the Content Code, particularly for slimming products is to boost consumer confidence. Once the advertiser of any slimming/health product gets the relevant permit, follows the guidelines set by the Medicine Advertiser’s Board and complies with the Content Code, the product will be considered legal and safe to be bought and consumed.

The Content Code actually emphasizes less on legal sanctions/punishment and more on disciplinary action because it focuses a lot on self-regulation instead. For instance, we are normally urged to do our own research before sharing fake news on Whatsapp or WeChat. This is because, at the end of the day, we have the power to decide if something is worth sharing or not. 

[READ MORE: Is there freedom of speech in Malaysia if you can get arrested for Facebook posts?]

So, if you were to see an ad on Instagram about a slimming pill that assures you that you will lose weight in 3 days – and on the other side you know someone who hits the gym regularly for 2 years until he/she could see results, which one makes the most sense to you?

Well, the law cannot regulate common sense. And generally, we should all be able to rationalize between something that sounds too good to be true and something that seems realistic. The Content Code just acts as a guideline, and a starting point to self-regulation among Malaysians. 

Perhaps this was best explained by Mr Mustaffa himself during the interview:

“Consumers must take, or learn to take greater responsibility for your own product purchasing decisions, for your own good. This is the start of fostering good, personal self-regulation practices” – Mohd. Mustaffa Fazil Mohd Abdan, Executive Director.

Now, some of you might feel that there’s more that can be done to improve the Content Code and that the changes made isn’t enough...

 

You can add your own 2 cents 

Or 200 Grands...GIF from Giphy.com

CMCF wants to hear from the members of the public on how they can further improve on the amendments that are being made to the Content Code. This does not just apply to advertisements on slimming products, but there are also 3 other issues that are addressed in the amendments as well.

As we mentioned earlier in the article, there are 4 main amendments (including the advertisements on slimming products) which are subject to amendment in the Code, like: 

  1. How the Malaysian Film Censorship Board classifies content. – The current classifications are 18+, PG13 and so on...
  2. Allowing public and private TV broadcasters to schedule classified programmes at relevant timings. – Eg: 18+ movies scheduled after 11pm.
  3. Increasing privacy requirements via the Malaysian Personal Data Protection Act 2010.
  4. Advertising slimming products and services with the approval of the Ministry of Health. – which was discussed in this article.

Most of the time, we complain or comment on a new law or regulation once it has been passed and is set to apply. This is a rare opportunity as the public now has the chance to give suggestions for the amendments being made to the Code. And as consumers, it’s probably safe to say that we know best on what we need and what we don’t.

Now you can be part of this by simply visiting CMCF’s site and participating in the Content Code Public Consultation Exercise. This exercise is done to gather as much input from Malaysians on how they want to improve their experience on electronic medium and the internet.  

The due date to send your suggestions is on the 14th July 2019! So, here’s the link to help you get started!

 

 

Tags:
mcmc
ministry of health
communications and multimedia act 1998
cmcf
communication and multimedia content forum
content code public consultation exercise
content code
medicine advertisement board
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Matdura S.

Very aunty-social.


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