CHOICE # 244

14 February 1997
Forward
Email this page
  • Study on optometrist's service quality
  • Life-saving devices may not be reliable as they claim
  • "Sugar-free" products increase blood glucose
  • Warning on thermal food containers fillted with inner-glass blub
  • Banks and finance companies failed to reveal true cost of credit for tax loans

Getting a qualified optometrist to accurately prescribe your spectacles lens is one thing. Getting the lens as prescribed is quite another.

To study the optical precision between the prescribed and the actual lens, the Consumer Council has conducted a survey on spectacles shops throughout Hong Kong.

The result: an astounding, if not alarming, 54.7% of the spectacles samples were found to be at variance with their prescription according to the standard used in this survey. Further, not one single company in this survey could have all spectacles samples produced fully in conformity to their prescription orders.

Included in the survey were 15 spectacles companies of various sizes - 5 with outlets of more than 10, 5 with 3 and more outlets and 5 with less than 3 outlets. A total of 75 pairs of spectacles were purchased with 5 from each company and their lenses checked to investigate if they conform to the prescription order.

The spectacles samples were measured in accordance with the "Tolerance Table" set by the Optometry Clinic of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The tolerance level applied is actually considerably less stringent than the British Standard (BS2738) in use for such measurement. Had the UK standard been adopted the non-compliance rate is almost certain to rise even higher.

Despite the high level of non-conforming spectacles lenses, few wearers are likely to detect the discrepancy and raise complaint as the human eyes are very adaptive.

For the past 2 years, the Consumer Council received 104 and 106 complaints against optical shops with 50 and 49 respectively alleging prescription problem.

The Council considers that spectacles shops are responsible for ensuring that the optical properties of the lenses conform to the prescription order in respect of the lens power and other specifications. They should employ optometrists qualified under the Optometrists (Registration and Disciplinary Procedure) Regulation to test the eyesight and also check the quality of the lenses to ensure optical precision.

At present, different spectacles shops may adopt different practices in accepting or rejecting lenses from the workshops or manufacturers. But in view of the findings of this survey, the Government and the industry are urged to look into the problem to safeguard the quality of the products.

Highlights of the survey, published in the latest (244) issue of the Council's monthly magazine 'CHOICE', include :

  • Of the 75 pairs of spectacles with prescription for myopia and astigmatism, 41 pairs failed the tolerance of the HKPU's Optometry Clinic in that the lenses were not in conformity with their prescription orders.
  • The most violated items were discrepancy in the "dioptre " and the axis for astigmatism. Others were about the effect of horizontal or vertical prism (which will change the position of the image right or left, or upward or downward, in respect of the object).
  • It appears that the higher the power the spectacles lenses, the more the possibility the lenses are at variance with their prescription orders. For myopic lenses of about 6.25 dioptres and astigmatic lenses of about 3.25 dioptres, only 3 out of 15 pairs could comply with the HKPU's requirement. Whereas for myoptic lenses of about 2.00 dioptres and astigmatic lenses of 0.50 dioptre, the compliance rate improved with 11 out of 15 pairs successfully meeting the requirement.

 

Considerable price variations in spectacles frames and lenses were found in a separate price survey.

For example, the price variation for one frame model was only $60 or 15 percent. But for another model, the difference was as much as $810 or some 60 percent.

Consumers will do well to shop around for price comparison of the frame and lens they have in mind to purchase. They should also be wary that higher discount rate does not necessarily mean lower selling price.

Most shops will provide free eye examination by the optometrist only when consumers make purchase there.


New life-saving devices that came into the market after the recent spate of horrific fires have sparked concerns over their proper usage and effectiveness.

While these devices are meant to throw a life line to those in peril of fire, users should remain alert at all times.

As these products are not the prescribed fire service installations and equipment under the Codes of Practice for Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment, their usage needs no approval from the Fire Services Department which has expressed reservations about these products as a means of self life-saving devices.

Consumers are therefore urged to consult this February issue of 'CHOICE' which includes a report advising on the use of such products. Highlighted in the report were products that include:

The Rescuer claims to evacuate people trapped in high rises by means of a safety harness and a pulley system that hooks onto the structures of the building. But it is essential that the user receives proper training and regular practice in order to be conversant with the operation of the equipment.

The Smoke Mask or Hood, a device fitted with a filter to remove smoke and covers the head and eyes during a fire, would give a false sense of safety to the wearer to remain in a dangerous environment instead of leaving the scene as quickly as possible.

There is also the concern that such mask or hood might be unsuitable for the type of toxic fumes generated from the fire, or rendered totally ineffective where oxygen is lacking.

The public are advised that the best form of protection against fire starts with fire prevention at home - and at the work place, too. Fire accidents claimed 66 lives and injured 648 people in 1996, a significant increase over 1995 when 23 were killed and 594injured.

Most fires are caused by careless handling of smoking materials such as cigarette testubs, followed by cooking and electricity faults. The public should therefore check the safety of their electrical appliances, wires and switches; maintain clear exit route; and get themselves familiar with the fire exits, and if in need install fire extinguishers and fire blankets at home.

For those who may install a smoke alarm at home, they are reminded of the need to locate it in appropriate places so as to avoid false and nuisance alarms, and to regularly check and replace the batteries.


Are you among those who are conscious of your sugar intake for reasons of diabetic, overweight or whatever?

There is on the market a whole wide range of food products with claims of sugar free or the like all clamouring for your attention to buy.

But are these food products really without sugar? And are they any better than their competing products with sugar?

To investigate the validity of their advertising and labelling claims, the Consumer Council has surveyed a total of 46 such food products on the market. The findings are quite a relevation to their buyers.

Of the 24 food products with claims of "sugar free" or "sugarless", 10 were labelled to contain no sugar; 1 a trace amount of sugar; 2 had ingredients composed of sugar but their amount was not labelled; 11 were without any label on sugar content at all.

But a more important finding is that the above sugar free food products all contain carbohydrate. Since Carbohydrate induce an increase in blood glucose level, diabetes should monitor their intake amount.

In fact, 4 samples labelled as "no sugar added", "fructose sweetened" or "made without sugar" were promoted on the label as suitable for diabetes. When consuming these products, diabetic patients should therefore reduce other carbohydrate food to prevent exceeding their daily carbohydrate allowance.

There were also incidences of claims which appear to be unsubstantiated. For instance, a liquid sweetener claimed in its pamphlet that it will not increase blood glucose. But according to the laboratory report of the product, it contains carbohydrate. Thus, its claim is not adequately supported.

Another fructose sweetener claimed to be suitable for diabetes. However, for those with uncontrolled blood glucose level, absorbed fructose will be quickly transformed into glucose, causing a rise in blood glucose level. Diabetes should consult their doctors or dietitians on their suitability to use fructose as sweetener.

For those on weight loss diet, they are advised to look out for such labels as "not a low calorie food" or "not for weight control" which were found on 7 of the "sugar free" product samples.

In the report, published in this February issue of "CHOICE", it is stressed that most food products with sugar free claims are pricy items, but according to dietitians, even for the diabetes, they are definitely not a necessity. Diabetic patients should strictly follow the meal plan as directed by doctors and dietitians.

For the weight conscious, it is also not necessary to consume sugar free products as these products are calorie-containing and excessive consumption may lead to weight gain. Weight loss can be effectively attained through regular exercise and a balanced diet.


Thermal food containers fitted with an inner-glass bulb are not suitable for young children to carry meal to school.

The Consumer Council issued this warning to parents in a test report on the product popular with consumers during the colder seasons.

The test followed complaints of the glass bulbs of the thermal food containers being suddenly shattered. In one accident, a school girl allegedly sustained eye injury after the glass bulb cracked with the shattered fragments flying out of the container.

Included in the test were 15 samples - 5 without safety vessel (inner-glass protector), 6 with removable safety vessel and 4 with fixed safety vessel.

They were subjected to impact resistance test which indicated that 14 out of 15 samples had 1 to 4 inner-glass bulbs broken at the end of the test.

All broken parts of the glass bulbs, however, were retained within the vacuum food containers, thus minimising the hazard that could result.

Nevertheless, children may not know how to deal with a broken container and may accidentally hurt themselves. Parents should therefore avoid buying these containers for their children for meal at school.

Consumers are advised to exercise care to avoid any severe impact to the inner-glass bulb. The use of metal spoon or fork to pick the food in it is to be avoided.

The test also examined the performance of these thermal food containers in relation to their heat insulation effect. It showed that the time taken for water temperature to fall from 95 degrees C to 75 degrees C ranged from 93 minutes to 293 minutes. The best and the least satisfactory performers registered a substantial difference of 200 minutes or 3hours 20 minutes!

Further, no excessive plastic materials were found to migrate from the plastic safety vessels to the food contained indicating that the plastic material is in conformity with the EEC standard for safety.


Most banks and finance companies have failed to reveal the true cost of credit in the Annualized Percentage Rate (APR) for tax loans to consumers.

In a survey of the promotional materials of 17 tax loan plans, the Consumer Council has found that with the exception of one, all used a computation method that did not take into account all surcharges such as insurance cover and handling fee.

The one tax loan plan that revealed the true cost of credit in its APR did not impose any such additional charges.

Both the Hong Kong Association of Banks and the DTC Association have recommended their members to adopt the Net Present Value Method as specified in the UK Consumer Credit Actin the calculation of APRs.

According to the survey, using a sum of $50,000 to be repaid by 12 instalments as an example, the true APRs of the 17 tax loan plans would actually have been higher, by 2.17percent per annum to 0.92 percent per annum, if the UK computation method is adopted.

The survey has compared the tax loan lenders on whether they adequately disclosed on the following 6 items:

  • the annualized interest rate (APR);
  • the APRs for different repayment method;
  • costs of loan;
  • preferential rates for special groups of borrowers;
  • terms and conditions in summary; and
  • the APR calculated in accordance with guidelines of the HKAB or the DTC Association.

The survey found that only 8 of the 17 tax loan brochures provided disclosure on 5 of these items of information. One in fact was found to disclose none of these items in both the Council's surveys this year and in 1995.

But on the whole, there were improvements in the information disclosure of some tax loan plans as compared with the situation two years ago when the Consumer Council first took up the issue of the APRs in consumer loans.

Consumers are advised to consult this February issue of 'CHOICE' for findings of the survey.