FROM knowledge sharing and communication to online commercial transactions via e-commerce, the Internet has changed global lifestyles tremendously.
E-commerce has been developed for consumers to select and purchase products at the click of a mouse. This platform also provides opportunities for local entrepreneurs to start their business on a small scale and with minimal cost.
However, some of the products offered for sale online need to be regulated, particularly health supplements. The public are generally unaware of the importance of registered products in the market.
This is because pricing tends to be their main concern, especially for those in the lower and medium income groups who prefer cheaper or more affordable products that still deliver the required outcomes.
They become the target of entrepreneurs and marketers bent on getting them to purchase their products, particularly those related to slimming and beauty enhancement, including dietary supplements.
Most entrepreneurs use customers’ testimonies to attract potential buyers while offering better packages for their existing clients.
In their advertisements online, they post claims on the benefits or effects of their products such as being able to preserve youth, whiten skin and improve wellness.
Some even claim to have successfully obtained local or/and international regulatory approval such as MAL (Malaysian registration) and USFDA (US registration).
How much consumers really know about dietary supplements being sold online and the seller is an issue that needs to be explored.
However, it can be safely said that their knowledge is based on what they get from the description provided in the online platform.
In Malaysia, some of these health supplements are not clearly defined as “food” or “drugs”.
In order to better define and regulate these products, the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) and the Food Safety and Quality Division (FSQD) of the Health Ministry formed the Committee for the Classification of Food-Drug Interphase Products in 2000.
Entrepreneurs selling these items online who are either confused or unaware of this difference are advised to seek the help of the NPRA to determine which category their products fall under.
Products that are classified as food must comply with the Food Act and Food Regulation under the jurisdiction of the FSQD.
For products classified as drugs, these must comply with the Sale of Drugs Act, Dangerous Drugs Act, Poisons Act, Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act and Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation (CDCR).
These Acts and regulations ensure the quality, safety and efficacy of medicinal products through registration, including quality control, inspection and licensing, and post-registration activities
Most health supplements sold online would actually fall under the drug category and must be registered with the NPRA.
Upon approval by the Drug Control Authority (DCA), the product will be given a registration number (MAL12345678N as an example for health supplement or MAL12345678T for traditional medicine). Consumers should look for this registration number on the products.
A MeditagTM hologram label on the product also provides authentication and verification that it is registered with the relevant authority.
Consumers are encouraged to conduct a product search on the NPRA website (www.npra.gov.my) if they have any doubts about the safety of the product they intend to buy.
Medical advertisements for health supplements and traditional medicine products must obtain approval from the Medicines Advertisement Board. Approved advertisements and promotional materials are given serial numbers, for example KKLIU 1234/2018.
Consumers can conduct an online search for the advertisement on the Pharmaceutical Services Programme website (https://www.pharmacy.gov.my/v2/ms/apps/iklan).