CHOICE # 246

15 April 1997
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Watch out for eye drops that contain steroids.

Eye drops with steroids should only be used under the guidance of a physician

Abusive use of eye drops with steroids, over a prolonged period of time, could lead to serious consequences, the Consumer Council warned today.

It may cause serious side effects such as glaucoma and cataract that may result, in severe cases, even the loss of eyesight.

At least one such case was reported last year in which a 6-year-old child had used an eye drop with a steroid drug for over a year. The child lost the sight of both eyes eventually.

According to a report in this April issue of 'CHOICE', although eye drops with steroids can only be purchased on a doctor's prescription as corticosteriod is listed under the Third Schedule of the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance, there have been incidences of violation by drug stores.

Drug stores are known to sell eye drops with steroids without a prescription and sometimes even recommend them to unwary customers.

Consumers are warned not to buy or use eye drops that contain steroids, without the diagnosis and guidance of a physician.

Common steroids that could be found in eye drops are : Hydrocortisone, Dexamethasone, Betamethasone, Prednisone, Flourometholone.

Consumers are also advised that they should refrain from the practice of buying eye drops with steroid drugs on prescription that they obtained previously or from other people.

Eye drops with steroid drugs are effective against eye inflammation and in preventing inflammation after eye surgery. They are safe to use if patients are under the guidance of a physician. But if a patient uses the medicine longer than he should, he may also suffer the side effects.

When it comes to cookware, few ever pay any notice to an insignificant but indispensable piece of utensil – the plastic turner that tosses and turns the food in a frying pan or Chinese wok.

Probably for the first time to be brought under scrutiny by any consumer body, the utensil was the subject of a recent Consumer Council test.

26 plastic turners of different brands at prices ranging from a mere $7 to a costly $82 were sampled for the test.

And the result was a nasty surprise: many of the plastic turners coming into close contact with the food as they must during cooking, were found to pose a health risk.

The test sought to detect any migration of plastic constituents from the turner to the food.

It was performed with reference to the European Commission Directive 90/128/ECC which stipulates that any transfer of plastic constituents to foodstuffs shall not exceed, in quantity, 10 milligrams per square decimetre of surface area of material.

The test revealed that half (13) of the test models exceeded the overall migration limit. The worst sample had 98.2 mg/dm 2 of plastic constituents transferred to the food in the test.

According to the labels of 19 of the samples, 18 claimed to be made of nylon while one of melamine.

As nylon is prepared from hexamethylene diamine (an experimental teratogen) and adipicacid while melamine is composed of formaldehyde (a probable human carcinogen), there is the possibility that these or other plastic constituents might migrate from the turner to the food.

Prolonged consumption of foodstuffs contaminated with such substances is detrimental to health.

According to the test, the models at the lowest end of the price range scored a high failure rate. Of the 6 samples in that price bracket, 5 did not conform to the standard.

On the other hand, a high marked price is no guarantee to safety either. Consumers will therefore do well to consult the test report.

Besides the safety aspect, the test also examined their durability which is a measure of the number of times a turner is dipped into hot cooking oil without deformation or melting.

The test detected a significant difference in durability performance among the models with the worst being deformed after the first trial while the best showing no sign of deformation after 10 dips in hot cooking oil.

As part of the same test, 26 models of non-stick cook wares - 22 frying pans and 4Chinese woks - were included to evaluate their safety, construction, durability and cooking performance.

The test gave these products a clean bill of health. The extractives of the test samples were found to be well within the safety limit of the US Food and Drugs Administration regulations.

Considerable variations were found in their performance in the other aspects of the test. Full results of the test were published in this April issue of 'CHOICE'.

With property prices at the levels they are, you owe it to yourself to ensure that the flat you have bought is in tip-top condition.

Careful inspection of your flat during the handover process of the property is therefore vital to safeguard your consumer interests.

In this issue of 'CHOICE' is included a comprehensive checklist of issues that a flat owner should inspect before taking over the premises.

The checklist is prepared in consultation with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and property developers.

Issues that need to be covered include: keys, electrical appliance and installation, doors, windows and bay windows, balcony, internal walls, flooring, ceilings, kitchen, bathrooms, pipes and taps, telephone and aerial, etc.

Flat owners are advised to bring along the sales brochure together with the Sale and Purchase Agreement so that fittings and finishes could be checked accordingly during the handover process.

They should also be equipped with a tool kit that includes pencil, colour pencil, measuring tape, screwdriver, paper, torch, light bulb, colour label, and even ladder ready for easy inspection of the flat.

The report noted that a Defect Liability Period (DLP) of normally 1 year exists between the property developer and the construction contractor to cover latent defects of new flats that already existed but could not be readily detected at the time of the handover.

The DLP may take effect from the date of the completion of the property or from the date of handover.

Arranging your utility bills and instalment payments to be settled by autopay is not the end of it all.

Unless carefully managed a direct debit authorization to your banker could spell new troubles you may not readily realise.

In the worst scenario, autopay authorization will have you virtually signing off your cheques in blank for any amount of money to be transferred from your account.

A social service agency was recently reported to have been debited by autopay a huge sum to the tune of $2.3 million for its water charges in August 1995. The mistake was later discovered and, only after a lengthy process of claim, rectified with the overcharged amount and overdraft interest charges refunded.

Consumers are advised to study the terms and conditions in the direct authorization document and to fully understand their obligations.

It is also advisable to set the limit for each payment and an expiry date for the authorization.

To safeguard consumer interests, the Consumer Council has conducted a survey of 16banks on the provision of autopay service. The survey showed that the arrangements and charges varied from bank to bank and some fared better than the others.

For instance, the fee levied on a customer whose autopay transaction is rejected due to insufficient fund varied from $70, the lowest, to $100, the highest.

Some banks charged the customer a service fee even if the fault of rejected autopay transaction was found on the charging party. But 4 banks stated that they would waive such charge.

Some (7) banks would allow a grace period, usually 7 days, for overdue mortgage repayment while others made no such allowance.

The Consumer Council has received a complaint concerning autopay arrangements with a bank for the payment of the annual fire insurance premium for property under mortgage. As the bank which arranged for the fire insurance cover, had not notified her of the premium due, she had deposited sufficient fund for the mortgage repayment only.

The bank, however, first debited the fire insurance premium of over $1,000 thus leaving insufficient fund for the mortgage repayment. It then proceeded to charge her for interests for overdue mortgage payment and a service charge for the rejected autopay transaction.

The Council has since been in negotiation with the Hong Kong Association of Banks and according to the survey, the situation has improved considerably. Most banks would send a reminder notice prior to (7 days to 1 month) the payment due date of the annual property fire insurance premium. 2 banks would not and 2 refused to divulge.

The Consumer Council is strongly in favour of all banks adopting such practice as it is beneficial to both the consumer and the party to be credited.

Don't turn a children's playpen into a death trap.

A 2-month-old baby boy was found dead in a playpen which had been converted for use as a children's cot in 1995. The cause of death was suffocation.

Parents are urged not to use playpens as children's cots. Further, they should not let infants sleep in the prone position, i.e. face down towards the bedding, which could result in suffocation as the children is made to rebreathing the exhaled air.

Although playpens are now regulated under the Toys and Children's Products Safety Ordinance, parents should not let their guard down to ensure that the playpens they buy and use are safe.

The Customs and Excise Department's Trading Standards Investigation Bureau has recently initiated investigation on playpens.

7 samples of playpens were tested by the Government Chemist in accordance with the requirements of the Ordinance. 6 samples were subsequently found to fail to comply with the safety standard. The major faults are :

  • The padded rim was easily dislocated, cut or punctured to expose the hard parts of the frame. Children accidentally falling onto the hard parts may be injured.
  • The playpen might be overturned during use.
  • The playpen could collapse. If a baby is holding onto the top rail when it collapses, the child can be caught by the neck and strangled.
  • Samples might not have the mandatory marking and instructions for use.

The Customs and Excise Department has since seized a total of 14 pieces of 3 models of non-complying playpens valued at $8,500.

The Consumer Council has conducted a study into the level of prices during the 10%price cut offered first by Wellcome and immediately followed by Park'N Shop in mid February this year. It sought to analyse to what extent would consumers benefit from the price cut.

By comparing prices before and during the discount price period, it was observed that overall prices were generally lower because of the across-the-board reduction of 10%.

The extent of benefit a consumer can gain depends largely on his or her consumption pattern. If the consumer chose to buy items that normally would not enjoy any price discount, the benefit would be more. Whereas if the consumer would normally buy only those special promotional items with bigger discount, the benefit may be less in an across-the-board price cut.

Further, a larger discount does not necessarily mean a lower absolute price as compared to prices in other shops, consumers must still shop carefully and look at the final price not the size of a discount.