CHOICE # 242

16 December 1996
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  • Reliability of condoms concerned
  • Facts about CPU
  • Toxic substances found in over-heated cup noodle container
  • Some "Zisha" (Chinese ceramic) tea cup samples contain excessive lead content
  • How to choose alarm system for elderly or disabled ?
  • Some telephone sets may not be compatible to the upcoming calling number display (CND) function
  • Price survey on residential property in Mei Foo (Southwestern Kowloon)

Substandard condoms are a matter of life or death! For they may result in unwanted pregnancy or the transmission of HIV, the cause of AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases (STD).

The Consumer Council which has long been concerned with the reliability of condoms, today released its latest test report on the biggest batch of condom samples (30,000) ever conducted on this product since 1988.

The results are as disappointing a sthey are worrying. Out of the 95 models marketed under 50 brands in Hong Kong, one-third of them were found to be unsatisfactory posing a potential hazard to their users.

The condoms were subjected to a series of physical tests which measure their likelihood of leakage and breakage.

The samples were sourced from retail outlets in Hong Kong as well as, for the first time, in Shenzhen and Macau.

The results, based largely on ISO4074-1 (Condom Standard), showed that 16 models were unsatisfactory in the leakage test,22 models in the air burst test and 12 models in the tensile test.

The worst condoms with the most substandard samples were found in one model with 44 out of 125 samples failing the leakage test (the maximum failure allowed is 1) and another with 61 out of 125 samples failing the bursting pressure test (the maximum failure allowed is 5).

While the results were far from reassuring, consumers can take relief at the outcome that two-thirds of the samples complied with the standard in their physical tests and were considered reliable to use.

The use of condoms as a means of preventing HIV infection is well established. Consumers are therefore advised to exercise care in the choice of condoms of good quality. They can consult the test report in this (242) December issue of the Council's monthly magazine 'CHOICE'.

In the samples were 8 models which claimed to contain the spermicide Nonoxynol-9 (N9) in their lubricants (with claimed concentration from 5 percent to 8 percent w/w).

The spermicide N9 was at the centre of a recent controversy in the UK over its effect on the sperm count of the male user and the development of male reproductive organs of the fetus due to potential exposure to N9during pregnancy. The Council will keep in view of the development.

On labelling, only 30 out of 95 condom models were considered satisfactory in accordance with the ISO standard. Many need improvement or lack manufacture/expiry date and other required labellings.

The Consumer Council has notified, at the first instance, of its test results to the Customs and Excise Department for investigation under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance which prohibits the supply of substandard condoms in Hong Kong.

Condom manufacturers are urged to maintain a high standard of quality in their products because of the grave consequences substandard condoms may cause to their users.


As the cold weather sets in, the Consumer Council has turned its attention to a new emerging market geared to run immediate rescue to the elderly or disabled in distress.

Operators offer an round-the-clock standby ready to respond to emergency calls from its clients who can raise the alarm simply at the touch of a button.

The Council has conducted a market survey on 9 such service providers --- most are commercially operated and some non-profit organisations.

In moments of emergency, for example, a sudden severe cold spell attack, the elderly or disabled armed with a remote trigger on their body (a pendant or a wrist watch), can swiftly summon help by pressing a button on the device.

This will activate a local unit in the house which in turn will act as an auto dialler connecting it to the control centre via the telephone line.

Operators at the control centre will establish the caller's identity, monitor the situation and provide the necessary assistance.

In this December issue of 'CHOICE' is provided useful and practical information, particularly on (1) features of the local unitand the remote trigger, (2) the supporting service provided by the control centre, and (3)how to choose (whether to buy or lease).

As local units and remote triggers available in the market vary in features, consumers should heed the following:

The unit must be user friendly, and must not be difficult or confusing to operate as users are mainly the elderly or disabled.

It is desirable to have microphone and speaker on the local unit to allow effective two-way communication between the caller and the control centre.

  • The unit should warn the user and if possible the control centre of power and telephone line failure.
  • It is desirable to have microphone and speaker on the local unit to allow effective two-way communication between the caller and the control centre.
  • The unit should warm the user and if possible the control centre of power and telephone line failure.
  • The remote trigger should be easy to press and water proof so that the user can wear it even when bathing.
  • As the remote trigger generates radio wave, some experts do not exclude the possibility that radio wave generated by the remote trigger may interfere the operation of pace maker. For consumers implanted with a pace maker, they are advised not to use remote trigger until it has been proven safe to use.
  • Consumers should check with service providers that their products comply with the Telecommunication Ordinance. In the survey, all service providers claimed that their products fall within the Telecommunication (Low Power Devices) (Exemption from Licensing) Order.

Service providers, on the other hand, should provide the following:

  • A reliable service, e.g. man the hotline as claimed.
  • Active regular preventive maintenance service to ensure the local unit in good condition.
  • Adequately trained operators to communicate effectively with the user and provide adequate assistance.
  • In case of power or equipment failure, the control centre should be able to resume service within a reasonable period of time with the installation of back up battery or power supply.

In addition, the report noted that some service providers offer one-off payment or a monthly charge. At such early stage of service development, consumers are advised to choose monthly charges to ascertain the quality of the service provider and to avoid loss due to sudden closure of the company. Also, new products/service may emerge as the market becomes more mature in the future.

The Consumer Council has also recommended the government and the social services sector to consider ways and means to ensure reliability of service i.e. whether it would be desirable to introduce legislation or licensing, over the operation of these service providers. This is because of the high and irrevocable price a user may have to pay for an unreliable service - it may also cost live.


If you enjoy cup noodles with a cup of tea, take a closer look at the containers in which your gastronomic delight is served.

Recent reports from overseas have raised alarm of the potential health hazard the material of the container for cup noodles and Zisha cups with bluish-white cracked glaze may pose.

59 samples of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food container comprising 48 cup noodles, 2 instant rice porridges, 7 foam bowls, cups and plates and 2take-away containers were tested to investigate their safety for the presence of the toxic substance, residual styrene monomer (SM). A separate test was also conducted to study the release of container constituents under different user conditions.

The results showed that the amount of SM in these food containers complied with the prescribed limit of the total residual styrene monomer as stipulated in the US Food and Drug Administration requirement.

The highest value detected in these food container samples was0.08 percent - significantly less than the prescribed limit of 0.5 percent.

Nevertheless, the Council cautioned consumers to avoid using EPS containers to store food at a high temperature and for a long period of time.

This is because the constituents of the EPS container could get into your food. Such constituents may consist of styrene monomer and other additives harmful to health.

On the study on the release of container constituents, it was showed that when oily food was held in EPS containers at a temperature of 100C for 24hours, an amount of 728 mg/dm2 of the container constituents was transferred to the food. The amount is some 72 times higher than the prescribed limit of 10 mg/dm2 as stipulated in the EEC Commission Directive (90/128/EEC).

In addition, EPS wastes, like other plastic materials, give rise to environment problems. The amount of EPS container waste was on a drastic increase from 23 tonnes per day in 1993 to 62 tonnes in 1994. For a better environment, consumers should make an effort to reduce the use of EPS containers.

Included in the other test were 13 models of Zisha cups comprising 7 with bluish-white cracked glaze, 3 with white glaze and 3 of the ordinary Zisha cups.

The test affirmed that 3 out of the 7 models with bluish-white cracked glaze had leachable lead content in excess of the prescribed ISO limit of 5 ppm.

The highest leachable lead content in these 3 models in question was detected to be 10.6 ppm. Two of them bore marking on the bottom of the cup indicating that they are from a province in China.

The other models were all within the safety limit.

As it is difficult to recognise from appearance if a bluish-white cracked glaze Zisha cup may have high lead content, consumers are advised to avoid such cups until they are able to verify the safety of the product.


Other highlights in this December issue of 'CHOICE':-

Calling Number Display (CND)

Telephone network operators are launching CND service which will available subscribers to identify incoming calls before answering.

But don't rush out to buy CND equipment. This is because at this early stage, the product choice is fairly limited. Also, not all telephone units with a LCD display is compatible with CND.

Consumers need to be very careful. They should insist on a demonstration in the shop to ensure the required function really work. They are also not restricted to buy from their network operator and may choose from any retail sources in the market.

Personal Computer - CPU

CPU is the heart of a computer. It can severely affect the whole speed performance of the computer. The right choice is therefore crucial.

Available in the market are several brands each with various models. Consumers are advised to understand the basic specifications before making any purchasing decision. They can consult the report in this issue of 'CHOICE'.