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Health, Beauty & Fashion

100 boxes of fake coloured contact lenses seized

Tests done by Health Sciences Authority find bacteria in lens solution
The Straits Times - July 21, 2011
By: Hoe Pei Shan
| More
100 boxes of fake coloured contact lenses seized

THEY look almost like the real deal, but putting in these counterfeit coloured contact lenses could cost you your eyesight.

More than 100 boxes of fake 'FreshLook ColorBlends' lenses have been seized from five optical shops by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) in the last month.

Though counterfeit, they bear the trademark of American eyecare giant Ciba Vision, and have been found in HSA tests to be unsafe and of poor quality.

Ciba Vision claims the genuine version of these lenses to be 'the leading colour contact lens product in Singapore', and that this was the first time they have been counterfeited.

The fake lenses, sold in the five shops at $42 a pair, come packed in a solution which has tested positive for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a harmful bacterium.

Singapore National Eye Centre medical director Donald Tan said Pseudomonas is a common bacterium behind severe eye infections linked to the use of soft contact lenses and which can cause blindness or make a corneal transplant necessary.

The troubling thing is these fake lenses were seized from licensed optical shops, not the black market or blogshops in the freewheeling enterprise zone online.

HSA's enforcement division director Chan Cheng Leng said at a press conference yesterday that this was the first instance of counterfeited health products being sold by legitimate suppliers.

Previous cases of fake health products have come off the black market.

HSA's probe indicates that the five shops had knowingly sourced these lenses from unauthorised dealers, likely at discounted prices.

More than 10 people have been hauled in for questioning, and two are assisting in HSA's ongoing investigation.

The source of the fakes is still unknown.

The counterfeits were uncovered when FreshLook lenses returned to the shops for exchanges were sent back to Ciba Vision instead. They did not make it past the company's authentification checks done as a matter of routine on returned products.

When the counterfeits failed the security feature checks (see other report on how to spot a fake), the company alerted HSA.

HSA declined comment on whether it expected to find more counterfeits, but said it had stepped up its surveillance and enforcement efforts.

Ciba Vision would not say how many shops here stock FreshLook ColorBlends lenses.

HSA's Ms Chan said that because the investigation is still on, HSA has not taken action yet against the five shops; the shops are thus still selling genuine versions of these lenses.

Some customers are outraged. Student Kenneth Taw, 23, who wears the brand, said: 'How can the authorities allow them to sell this product after acknowledging that the shops had bought lenses from unauthorised distributors?'

Saying he will stop wearing the lenses, he added that the shops should be held accountable and customers should be able to take legal action against them.

Other customers are unfazed. Miss Yee Mon, a 21-year-old student, said: 'Sure, I'll check my lenses to be sure I'm using the authentic ones, but I'm not worried enough to stop wearing them.'

Professor Tan noted the 'disproportionately high' percentage of eye infections from coloured contact lens use: Of the last 26 severe infections treated at the Singapore General Hospital, seven were the result of such lenses, he said.

None were from Ciba Vision products.

Ciba Vision, which sold more than 1.9 billion lenses in 2009, would say only that its priority now was to work with HSA in its investigation.

Regulations introduced in 2007 under the Health Products Act state that those found guilty of supplying counterfeit medical devices can be fined $100,000 and/or jailed for up to three years.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

True colours: How to spot the fakes

 

  • Look out for spelling and punctuation errors on the boxes. For instance, full-stops may appear among the listed contents where commas should be used in the real McCoy.
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  • The fonts on the packs should have a clearer and more defined outline. Counterfeits tend to have blurry text on the boxes.
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  • Colour pigments on authentic lenses are on the exterior of the lens, while the counterfeits sport pigments on the inside.
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  • Consumers who suspect that they have bought counterfeit lenses should stop using them immediately.
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  • Consult a doctor if any adverse reactions are experienced after using them.
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  • Members of the public who are aware of counterfeit health products being sold are encouraged to contact the Health Sciences Authority's Enforcement Branch on 6866-3485.
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    HSA's probe indicates that the five shops had knowingly sourced these lenses from unauthorised dealers, likely at discounted prices... HSA said that because the investigation is still on, it has not taken action yet against the five shops; the shops are thus still selling genuine versions of these lenses.

     

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