smoke

I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

Snake-oil

Everyday, on my commute to work, I hear the grating sounds of Gary Sy singing paeans to his latest snake oil variety: Vita-vegetable. He sets my ears to bleeding. And as if he weren’t bad enough, the early morning airwaves are saturated with a huge number of these things, all claiming to boost health, or dynamism, or whatever – followed by the breathless disclaimer “No approved therapeutic claims.”

Despite this disclaimer however, these things are apparently making enough money – obviously from sales – to buy advert space on broadcast primetime. Incidentally, LiverAide even used to air teevee ads, and Havitall uses high-priced talents like Edu Manzano and Sharon Cuneta (who, according to Nielsen, is the most effective product endorser evar).

Just a few of the other ones I can remember:Diabetrol; Circulan, LungCare, Abs Bitter herbs, HeartVit, and VitaHeart.

This whole thing is disturbing on so many levels:

Dumb

NATC pills (for lack of a better term) represent the dumbing down of the Filipino consumer. If you pay close attention to the ads, you can immediately see that they rely on folksy wisdom to sell. Circulan says “it’s all in the blood;” a meaningless assertion that, nevertheless, zeroes in on the primitive belief that there is something mystical about blood – basically as a stand in for the more esoteric concepts of chi and chakras – and its harmonious flow.

Liveraide makes the pitch that it’s okay to indulge in fatty foods and liquor so long as your liver is protected. That’s just plain bullshit, but it does resonate with the near superstitious belief of under-informed filipinos that it is possible to bullet proof body-parts. It’s like an internist’s version of the anting-anting. And all the others pin their claims either on rustic remedies or scientific-sounding gobbledy-gook.

So, the obvious target is the basic gullibility of people who don’t know better. And the fact that these concoctions sell is a strong indicator that there is a growing number of “people who don’t know better.”

False Security

Aggravating things is that these people who don’t know better are being lulled into a sense of false security. Just like that product Lactum – the one where the adverts say it’s okay for growing kids not to eat right so long as they drink Lactum – these NATC pills foster the belief that they are cure-alls. Of course, they don’t say this, but that’s pretty much the inescapable implication. Take Abs Bitter Herbs, for instance, which claims to help control sugar levels of diabetics using bittermelon extracts. COME ON. The danger here is that these NATC pills are so cheap compared to real meds that people are likely to forego expensive treatments and just rely on the promises of the NATC pills. People die that way.

And people feel they need them too. With life being so hard and the prevailing folk wisdom being that a person can’t afford to get sick, the idea of buying cheap pills that promise only to provide you with armor is more reasonable than buying multi-vits that actually help but do not make dramatic promises of ‘stronger lungs’ and the like, and are prohibitively priced. And besides, where have you ever heard of a vitamin that tells you it can counteract a lifestyle of excess?

Incidentally, I think the first ad I ever saw to pitch that line was for a brand of bottled water that promised to wash away the previous night’s abuses.

Expensive meds

But it isn’t all the fault of the makers of these NATC pills. These things exist because high prices have made real meds all but inaccessible. An artificial supply-side void (artificial because there is no real scarcity, just that the meds are too costly and therefore people can’t afford them anymore – hence, they are in effect made scarce) has been created and the NATC pills have simply rushed in to meet the demand; but not with real solutions only placebos.

SO, if you look at it this way, it’s obvious that the proliferation and the booming business in NATC pills is quite paradoxically boosted by poverty – people can’t afford the P150 for meds but they can afford P10 per day for the promise that they won’t need meds at all. Never mind that that logic is sound only on the surface of things.

Vita-vegetable is guilty of this kind of marketing schema as well. By promoting vita-vegetable as a source of nutrients from vegetables, it appeals to people who feel they have other more pressing needs to meet with their diminished purchasing power. Needs like cellphone credits, for instance.

And so, apart from making people dumb, and creating a false sense of security, these NATC pills can also be blamed for promoting stupid financial prioritizations – something, truth be told, that Filipinos are already too good at.

Complicity

And finally, this whole business brings to the fore the continuing hypocrisy of broadcast media – more particularly of a.m. talk shows and talk show hosts who otherwise loudly trumpet that they are champions of the poor, the downtrodden, and the helpless.

Of course these talking heads can’t trash these NATC pills even if they’re obviously just a scam; if they do, they loose advertisers. And they end up just shutting about it. Worse, by allowing these products to advertise on their programs, these hosts actually impart a patina of legitimacy to the damned things. In the face of that implicit endorsement from people like Mike Enriquez, Ted Failon, and Korina Sanchez, what chance does the disclaimer have?

This makes me believe that big media is actually in cahoots with the interests that push these NATC pills.

What I think?

I think it’s time the BFAD crack down on these NATC pills. More drastically, I think it’s time to just not allow the sale of NATC pills.

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Filed under: science, ,

10 Responses

  1. cvj says:

    On what legal basis can these pills be prohibited?

  2. rom says:

    cvj:prohibited sale of vain hope

  3. cvj says:

    Is there such a law? Will it cover Multi-Vitamins (and the like) as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine?

    Maybe they should be regulating the advertisements instead like they do with Cigarettes.

  4. rom says:

    cvj: it’s in the revised penal code. but seriously, i don’t think it can be made to apply to food supplements. Multi-vits and Chinese meds don’t fall in the same category as food supps. For one thing, multi-vits i think are generally accepted to be therapeutically effective; while chinese meds fall under the category of rustic therapies – kinda like ayurveda.

    regulating adverts for food supps may, indeed, be a workable solution. but it’s not a satisfying one. especially when you consider how much people spend on these things.

  5. cvj says:

    As you said, some of these food supplements claim to be based on rustic remedies so drawing the line between Traditional Chinese Medicine and some of these NATC pills may not be that straightforward.

    How about those MLM products (like Nu Skin)? They sell both food supplements and vitamins.

    One other thing i can think of is to mandate “No Approved Therapeutic Claims” to be displayed in Pilipino (Tagalog, Bicolano, Cebuano, Ilonggo etc.) e.g. ‘Walang pinapangakong bisa’ or something like that.

  6. jazzmuzzle says:

    I agree that the advertisements should be the focus of regulation. It is quite unfortunate for the consumer that they are so uninformed and susceptible to appeals to their sense of how things work as opposed to how things ACTUALLY work.

    I work in a supplement store part time and it is unbelieveable how much trust customers put in me as a salesperson. They act as if I had a medical degree or knew wat I was talking about (lucky for my customers I do a LOT of research on this stuff and I will not sell something to someone if I have a lack of evidence to prove that it can fulfill its claims… at the least I will try to dissuade them).

    The bottom line is that there needs to be a serious overhaul of this market.

  7. rom says:

    jazzmuzzle:welcome to the smoking room! you comment was uniquely refreshing! thanks

  8. Bencard says:

    rom, criminally, maybe estafa through false pretenses, or fraudulent misrepresentation. there’s no question, it’s civilly actionable, i think.

  9. rom says:

    cvj: claiming to be based on rustic therapies does not put food supps in the category of rustic therapies, so in that respect at least, there isn’t likely to be any confusion.

    vitamins or multi-vits are those that contain a finite list of nutrients. So, vitamin e will always be marketed as vitamin e, even if it says “with ginko biloba” or something like that.

    A warning like you propose won’t work, i think. Everyday, i stare at the same warning on my pack of smokes, and yet here I am – a reasonably intelligent person – still courting cancer by happily puffing away.

  10. rom says:

    bencard: that’s my problem, uncle. I know in my gut that these things are a con. but it is precisely the niceties of law that protect them. like that NATC statement. That there is a strong defense against even false pretenses because it says right there on the label that no one has validated the claims they’re making. that puts the burden on the buyer. Truly: caveat emptor.

    What gets my goat is that they are trading on the gullibility of ordinary people, and that legal fiction – more specifically the legal fiction that everyone can understand what NATC actually means – allows them to keep on doing so.

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