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  • 1997.01.15
  • Tips on buying Chinese dried seafood
  • Facts about so-called high-nutrition eggs
  • Test on Advanced Photo System (APS)
  • Statory plans help to clarify land use
  • No shortcut to slimming
  • Better protection requested for users of multi-purpose stored-valued cards
  • Window cords endanger child's life

Beware of bargain sale prices when buying Chinese dried seafood and health enhancement medicinal delicacies.

Consumer complaints of sharp practices in this trade have risen significantly in the past 12 months - to 148 cases involving $520,000.

This was 95 percent and 66 percent increase over 1994 (76 cases) and 1995 (89 cases) respectively.

With Chinese New Year - a favourite time for such delicacies - just three weeks away, shoppers were alerted today (Wednesday, January 15) by the Consumer Council to such sharp practices.

Highlighted in this January (243) issue of the Council's monthly magazine 'CHOICE' were typical cases depicting the tactics used by some shops to snare their hapless customers.

According to the complainants, the shops would first entice you to what appears to be very lowly priced items.

As many of these dried food delicacies are very expensive, they are customarily priced in unit of tael. But the shops would display or show the prices in such a way that creates the impression the prices are for a catty.

Typically, the complainants would be persuaded into agreeing to buy a certain quantity at the price of their belief. The shop would then swiftly proceed to have the purchase sliced up as is often necessary for such foodstuff.

Once that was done, the customers would be told that the marked price was in fact for a tael and not a catty. The price thus went up by a hefty 16 times (there are 16 taels to a catty).

According to the complainants, the tactics the shops used were mainly: (1) switching the price tag from unit catty to tael, (2) using very fine small print to indicate the unit 'tael' as to be hardly discernible, (3) simply covering up the unit when holding up the jar containing the product to push the sales.

Consumers are therefore advised that they should carefully inquire and ascertain about the price and the precise unit on which the price is based. Also check if the records of the receipt correspond with your purchase in terms of the total price, the unit price and the quantity sold.

Otherwise, consumers have the right to refuse payment and leave the shop . Call for police assistance if the shop stops you leaving the premises.

"Omega 3" eggs, Free Range eggs or Uncaged eggs, Wholemeal eggs. How are they different from the ordinary white eggs and brown eggs? Are they worth the price, higher by 4 to 5 times the ordinary egg, they are sold?

According to a report, published in this issue of 'CHOICE', all these 3 types of eggs contained at least the same amount of saturated fat as the ordinary brown eggs, although "Omega 3" eggs and Free Range eggs contained relatively less cholesterol.

The report noted the claims made by these 3 types of eggs: "Omega 3" claims to contain higher omega 3 fatty acid; "Free Range" claims that hens producing these eggs have free access to pasture; and "Wholemeal" claims that hens producing these eggs has wholesome diets.

Despite these claims, it is not advisable to consume more of these eggs than normally recommended - 3 to 4 egg yolks per week for healthy adults, and not more than 2 per week for coronary heart disease risk group.

A totally new camera technology, called Advanced Photo System (APS), is being marketed. According to the latest test report, APS provides a number of improved features which include:

  • 3 different photo size formats - 2:3 (classical), 9:16 (like high definition TV) and 1:3 (panoramic).
  • print quality improvement - processing machine can read the exposure data stored in films for optimising the prints.
  • easy index - all pictures at a glance to facilitate reprint and size of the reprint.
  • imprint data - for user to put certain message e.g. birthday, I love you etc. on the picture.

Nevertheless, APS means higher cost in terms of camera, film and processing. For processing, most shops need at least 2 to 3 days while some even need a week.

With property prices rising the way they do now, it pays to find out the present and future town planning developments in the neighbourhood where the property is located.

The attention of the Council has been brought to the following incidents:

  • The sales brochure of a private property did not outline a cement factory in the vicinity.
  • A lot adjacent to the property was listed in the sales brochure as being reserved for the possible building of a school. The Government later decided to use the lot to build public housing blocks.
  • A psychiatric clinic was later found to situate within a Government building complex.

The Council advised potential flat buyers to look for more information from the Government's Planning Information and Technical Administration Unit under the Planning Department.

They should carefully read the statutory plans, which outlined the land use of the area as well as the future plans for unused land lots.

For the beauty conscious, there is no shortcut to slimming or staying slim. You simply need regular exercise and watch your diet.

Slimming products - be they apparatus or apparel, food or drugs - are proliferating incessantly with seemingly irresistible claims of effectiveness.

But, according to a Consumer Council's report, many of these products are not scientifically proven and may cause side effects.

For some, they are at best only marginally effective.

In this issue of 'CHOICE' is a comprehensive report covering a great variety of slimming foods and services available in the market. Highlights of the report include:

Externally Applied Products

e.g. slimming cream, salts, gel, soap, sticker and aromatic oil.

Whether those externally applied products are able to diffuse into the skin and burn excess body fat is doubtful. But some are known to provoke skin sensitivities or allergies in some people. Some also lack appropriate labelling in Chinese or English.

Slimming Machine

e.g. massage machine, electrical muscle stimulating machine.

These machines may help massaging or stimulating the muscle, but caution must be taken when using them to avoid injury. Consumers are advised to use these apparatus under the supervision of their physiotherapists. There is no scientific evidence that these machines can reduce fat since the body is moved only in a passive way and not actively doing exercises.

Slimming Apparatus

e.g. waist belt, mini-stepper, abdominal exercise apparatus.

Though some of such apparatus may help the body to exercise, consumers should use them with caution to avoid injury.

Slimming by "Reflexology"

e.g. shoe insole, finger band.

These products claim to reduce fat in different parts of body by massaging the reflex zones on the fingers or on the sole. However, it is difficult for most people to locate correctly the reflex zones. Western medicine holds that it is not feasible to reduce fat in particular parts of the body less by way of liposuction.

Slimming Apparel

e.g. trimming underwear, trimming pants and shorts, waist band.

These apparels are usually tightly fit and cause perspiration. The losing of water from the body may result in a small weight loss but there is no permanent change in the amount of fat. Clothings that are too tight may cause circulation problems, dermatitis, or even muscular atrophy.

Slimming Articles

Many books and magazines have topics on slimming and meal plans. Some of the messages in the articles may be erroneous. Consumers should pay attention to the trustworthiness of these articles. Should the consumers be in doubt, they will do well to consult dietitians.

Slimming Food

e.g. fiber pills, meal replacement drinks, sugar substitutes such as aspartame, saccharin, fructose, sorbitol, and mannitol, low fat or low calorie food and herbal diet tea.

Fiber pills usually work by increasing water absorption and expand the stomach. However, consuming too much may cause diarrhea. It is also a costly product as compared with the fiber provided by fruits. Meal replacement drinks, sugar substitutes and low fat and low calorie food are low in calories. They may help slimming but consumers should be wary of their shortcomings. For example, consuming large amount of sorbitol or mannitol may cause diarrhea. Herbal diet teas have diuretic or diarrhea effects and therefore may reduce body weight by losing water. However, fat is not reduced. Long term consumption may disturb the normal functioning of the intestine.

Slimming Drugs

e.g. amphetamine-type drugs, thyroid hormone, laxatives.

Amphetamine-type drugs and thyroid hormone are effective in reducing weight but may cause serious side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, increased blood pressure and heart rhythms disruptions. Consumers are advised not to consume these drugs unless they have been prescribed by their physician after consultation.

In addition, when joining a weight loss programme, consumers should choose the one that is safe and effective. Consumers should choose a weight loss center that accept their clients after proper assessment, discloses a true and full picture of the method, the potential risks involved in the method, the credentials of the staff, the initial and ongoing costs, and the costs of extra products and services.

Weight loss centers are not allowed to provide prescription drugs and surgery by law. It is also against professional ethics for doctors to establish commercial links with beauty parlors or commercial weight loss centres for accepting clients referred by these centres.

The Consumer Council is calling for better consumer protection to users of multi-purpose stored value cards (MPC).

The Council has proposed that as the users do not earn any interest on the funds they pay for the purchase of MPC, they should be afforded better protection than that for bank depositors.

The Council is therefore in favour of requiring all funds received on purchase of MPC be segregated at all times from the other funds of the institutions that issue MPC.

The Monetary Authority is urged to examine the possibility of requiring all such funds be placed in a trust account so as not to be affected by the risks of whatever other business activities of the MPC issuers.

The Council has submitted these and other proposals to the Legislative Council in response to the Banking (Amendment) Bill 1996 which proposed to introduce a legal framework to regulate the issue of MPC.

Besides the security of funds, the Council is also concerned about the protection that may be offered to MPC users.

For instance, what sort of record keeping would be in place so that users may be able to recoup any unused value on an MPC that is lost or verify the unused value on an MPC. And, if there would be any security procedure against forgery.

Further, the Council stressed that any regulatory system set up must offer adequate consumer protection and also allow competition.

There must not be any stiff barrier to entry for potential entrants to the market. Approval for the issue of MPC should therefore contain competition clauses prohibiting anti-competitive practices:

  • an MPC system imposing a restriction on outlets who have signed up with it from accepting other MPC systems;
  • price fixing e.g. MPC issuers agreeing on the level of service charge or not to compete against each other;
  • a market player abusing its dominant position e.g. by cross-subsidizing its MPC operation with income from other business activities and thus put other MPC players in a disadvantageous position.

Window cords or strings are potential death traps for young children.

Two baby girls, aged 18 months and 3 years old, died of suffocation last year after they became entangled in window cords.

Both tragedies occurred when they were left unattended in a room.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, since 1981 over 170 strangulation cases of children involving window cords, or about one death per month, were reported.

The Consumer Council has the following advice for parents:

  • Adjust window cords to the shortest practical length, then clip the cord to a higher position not reached by children with a clamping device, such as a clothes pin or document clip.
  • Install a cord tie-down device.
  • Cut the cord above the tassel, remove the equalizer buckle, and add a separate tassel at the end of each cord.
  • Keep window cords permanently out of the reach of children. Never place a child's crib and furniture within reach of a window cord.
  • No knotting or tying the cords together because this creates a new loop in which a child could become entangled.

Apart from window cords, strings and cords from children's clothings, toys and decoration ribbons can also strangle infants and children.