Saturday 2 July 2011

Isn't standard consumer protection legislation enough?

Imagine we found that some imported Ready-to-Drink product were adulterated with prescription-only pharmacological compounds. Would the correct response be:
  1. Lawsuit against the manufacturer and importer under the New Zealand's Consumer Protection laws for selling adulterated product
  2. A big new licensing regime for alcohol with mandatory government testing of all products
I'd lean pretty heavily to the first one. Peter Dunne recommends the second.
The Ministry of Health is recalling one of the brands of synthetic cannabis Kronic, called Pineapple Express, because it contains the prescription medicine phenazepam.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said phenazepam was an anti-anxiety and anti-convulsion drug. It could be harmful to people with a mental health condition or on other medications, as well as to pregnant women and children. Its effects were more pronounced when combined with alcohol.
The discovery of the medicine confirmed the dangers of suppliers putting unregulated drugs on the market when their safety was unproven, Dunne said.

''This clearly shows the worth of the Government's moves to change the onus of proof so producers and suppliers of these products need to prove they are safe before they can sell them.''

Currently authorities had to prove such products were unsafe before they could be taken off the market.
If the producer of any other legal product would get in serious trouble under normal consumer protection legislation for including prescription medicines as an unlabelled ingredient, why shouldn't we just use that process for party pills too? Am I missing something?


  1. I'm not totally sure of the legislation regarding this, or what Dunne is proposing, but I think your comparison falls down because the "herbal high" products aren't classed as food/medicine.

    In this respect the "herbal highs" are treated in the same way as most other non-edible consumer products. An example of this is that we ban some types of plastics that leach some carcinogenic chemical, but not plastics that leach a very similar chemical — the difference being that the one which isn't banned has not proven to be carcinogenic.

    While I agree that an overly onerous licensing regime is not an ideal solution because it would stifle new products from our markets, I think two things need to happen:

    1) products marketed for ingestion whether by eating, drinking, smoking, insertion, reclassified to be representative as such.

    2) Some form of basic regulation/level of screening of products which may contain dangerous chemicals and or substances which can be abused. Perhaps this would make it easier for the lawsuit to happen... This idea is only half baked.

    This won't fix it — people will always take drugs etc — but from a public health and reality perspective it's better than doing nothing or going too heavy on regulation.

  2. And then of course there is me Eric, with another approach, the third approach if you like, buy up the adulterated pharmacological product, take home, and drink it.

  3. @Jean: So a product clearly meant for consumption that isn't classed as a food or drink can't get the producer in trouble if adulterated? Say I started selling kids' pyjamas the fibres of which had been soaked in an LSD-equivalent. The parents couldn't sue me? Seriously?

  4. I'd say the thing you're missing is the irrational response the words "drug" and "high" engender in a sizeable proportion of the population, most especially the likes of Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton. Dune especially is pandering to his constituents, and although I haven't heard any comments by Anderton on this particular case I'm fairly certain he'd be in favour of an outright ban like the rest of the fun police. It seems it just isn't possible to have a rational, evidence-driven debate on drug policy in this country.

  5. Hmm, the vendors seem a bit haphazard in their duty of care with their approach of "we thought Customs was testing it for us".

    Maybe we need to revisit the remedy sections of the Consumer Protection laws, and bump up the maximum exposure from $200k with the potential for a bit of jail time for negligent vendors - especially when you're selling stuff for consumption.

    Otherwise you get the feeling that when they get a big fine, they'll just fold the company and wander off into the sunset; at least if they've got some skin in the game they might take it a bit more seriously.

  6. @Duncan: That's where I'd be looking as a first cut rather than a bit regime for party pills.

  7. @Duncan I agree totally.

    I do have concerns about legislative tweaks to put the onus onto manufacturers to prove product safety, mainly about how such legislation might be enacted/enforced. It seems like an open invitation for healthists to poke their sticky beaks where they aren't needed. Would this mean that the sale of new products such as the recent Double-Down from KFC would be prohibited because consumption was deemed to be harmful long-term?