Speeches and Presentations



LCQ22: Regulation of beauty and skin care products

Following is a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Godfrey Leung, to a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che in the Legislative Council today (February 19):

Question:

I have earlier received a complaint from a member of the public who said that she was close to nervous breakdown because she had suffered from generalised serious skin allergies, even partial skin ulceration, after using skin care products but there was no channel for her to lodge complaints. Since there is currently no statutory definition of beauty and skin care products in Hong Kong, only some of the beauty and skin care products are regulated by the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance (Cap. 456), the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138) and the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549), etc., in accordance with their composition. Moreover, it is learnt that quite a number of advanced places/countries (e.g. the European Union (EU), South Korea, the United States, Japan and Singapore, etc.) have long ago enacted legislation to stringently regulate the products concerned. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the total number of complaints about beauty or skin care products received by the authorities and the Consumer Council in each of the past three years;

(2) of the channels through which members of the public can hold the persons concerned responsible and make claims against them when they suffer from health problems after using imported beauty or skin care products;

(3) of the differences between Hong Kong and the aforesaid places/countries in the arrangements for the regulation of beauty and skin care products; and

(4) whether the authorities will consider drawing reference from the practices of the aforesaid places/countries and formulating a statutory definition of beauty and skin care products, adopting EU's practice of specifying a "responsible person" and introducing a piece of dedicated legislation to regulate such products, as well as setting up a dedicated law enforcement organisation similar to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in South Korea, so as to enhance the protection for consumers; if they will, of the implementation details and timetable; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

My reply to various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) The Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance (Cap. 456) regulates consumer goods which are ordinarily supplied for private use, including beauty and skin care products. According to the Ordinance, consumer goods must comply with "the general safety requirement", which requires the goods to be reasonably safe. To determine whether consumer goods comply with the requirement, all of the circumstances should be considered, including reasonable safety standards published by a standards institute.

If beauty or skin care products contain western drug ingredients, they are "pharmaceutical products" as defined under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138). Such products must first be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board before they can be legally sold in Hong Kong. For pharmaceutical products to be registered in Hong Kong, they must fulfill requirements in terms of safety, quality and efficacy. If products contain ingredients that meet the definition of "proprietary Chinese medicine" as stipulated under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549), they must firstly be registered with the Chinese Medicines Board under the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong, before they can be imported, locally manufactured and sold. Proprietary Chinese medicines must fulfill the requirements in terms of safety, quality and efficacy as set by the said Council in order to gain registration.

The total number of complaints about the safety of beauty or skin care products received by the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are 11, 17 and 25 respectively. The Consumer Council received one complaint in each year during the same period.

Meanwhile, the total number of complaints about pharmaceutical products and proprietary Chinese medicines received by the Department of Health (DH) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are 102, 154 and 113 respectively. DH does not compile separate statistics on beauty or skin care products.

(2) C&ED is responsible for enforcing the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance. For beauty and skin care products, apart from investigating complaints, C&ED conducts spot checks on wholesalers and retailers and test-purchases products for testing. C&ED also closely monitors relevant reports and alerts issued by relevant organisations on product safety, and will take appropriate enforcement actions including the issue of prohibition notices or recall notices and initiating prosecution.

To ensure the safety and quality of pharmaceutical products and proprietary Chinese medicines, DH has put in place a regular market surveillance system under which samples of these products are regularly collected from the market for testing. DH has also established a mechanism for adverse incident reporting relating to drugs and Chinese medicines, so as to conduct risk assessment, management and reporting. If substandard pharmaceutical products or proprietary Chinese medicines are found, DH may take actions such as ordering the traders concerned to recall the products, prosecuting the traders concerned and referring the cases to the relevant Board/ Council for follow-up actions, and issuing relevant press statements.

From the civil perspective, if members of the public suffer from health problems after using beauty and skin care products supplied in the market (including imported products), they may seek compensation from the traders concerned through civil proceedings. Besides, the Consumer Council may assist in conciliating disputes.

(3) and (4) As mentioned above, for regulating the safety of beauty and skin care products as consumer goods, C&ED will, in accordance with the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance, consider relevant reasonable safety standards, including the standards or requirements issued by the European Union, the United States and the Mainland. C&ED will take appropriate enforcement actions to protect consumers.

Beauty and skin care products which are pharmaceutical products or proprietary Chinese medicines are regulated under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance and Chinese Medicine Ordinance respectively. The Food and Health Bureau (FHB) points out that the regulatory mechanism established for products that are pharmaceutical products or proprietary Chinese medicines has been effective, and FHB will continue its work in the relevant aspect to ensure public health.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Issued at HKT 16:52