The 10th instalment of Operation Pangea took place from 12 to 19 September this year, during which the HSA stepped up surveillance on local websites selling health products.
It ended up seizing over 39,000 units of prohibited products, including weight loss supplements, sexual enhancement drugs (SEDs) and cosmetics, which amounted to an estimated street value of above S$133,000.
According to the HSA, 90% of the confiscated and tested weight loss products contained the banned substance sibutramine.
Sibutramine was previously available as a prescription-only weight loss drug but was withdrawn from Singapore in 2010 due to its adverse effects, which included increased heart attack and stroke risk, as well as hallucinations, palpitations and breathlessness.
So-called herbal products such as DZ Garcinia Herbal Plus, Gorgeousleem Advanced Capsule, Figure-Up Slimming Pill and XXS Advance were also found to contain strong medicinal ingredients like antihistamines and diuretics.
Illegal weight loss products have been a recurring problem in Singapore: between 2012 and 2016, 35 different products were found to have been adulterated with sibutramine.
Among the cosmetic products seized was Tati Skincare, whose high mercury content and prohibited ingredients the HSA had warned the public about in June.
It had reappeared online earlier this month, marketed as a “new and improved Tati Skincare”. The HSA noted that “repackaging the same product is a tactic undertaken by illegal manufacturers in an attempt to evade authorities’ detection and entice consumers”.
The ‘revamped’ Tati Skincare contained the same potent illegal ingredients as its predecessor: Therapy Cream 1 had high mercury levels, and Therapy Cream 2 contained hydroquinone and tretinoin.
The HSA has advised consumers to purchase weight loss drugs only from licensed doctors and pharmacists.
It added that while lower prices online may be attractive, this could be due to “unsafe or inferior ingredients, poor manufacturing methods and substandard or unhygienic storage conditions”.
The HSA has also instructed website administrators to remove online advertisements for these products to prevent more sales to the public.
The HSA’s Health Products Regulation Group director, Associate Professor Chan Cheng Leng, said, “While HSA continues in its effort to disrupt the online sale of illegal health products, consumers also play an important role in safeguarding their own health by being aware of the risks associated with Internet purchase of health products.
“Be wary of products that claim quick and effective cures as they may be adulterated with potent ingredients, and pose serious danger to consumers.”
If convicted, sellers of illegal health products are can be imprisoned for up to three years, fined up to S$100,000, or both.