Slim 10 saga


The Slim 10 saga in 2002 involved a number of people who were diagnosed with adverse health effects after consuming weight-loss pills that contained prohibited ingredients. Among them were two women who suffered liver failure. They were logistics manager Selvarani Raja, who died from the condition, and actress Andrea De Cruz, who survived after receiving a liver transplant. Both the importer and the distributor of the pills, Health Biz and TV Media, were fined by the health authorities and paid damages after two civil suits were brought against them by the victims and their families.

Origin and sales in Singapore

The Slim 10 pills were manufactured in Guangdong, China, by Yuzhitang Health Products and imported into Singapore by Health Biz Pte Ltd. Listed as a Chinese proprietary medicine and marketed as weight-loss supplements, Slim 10 was first launched in Singapore in November 2001.1 The first batch of pills was tested by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) before it was approved for sale and distribution.2 Slim 10 also fulfilled requirements by providing a full labelling of ingredients before its marketing campaigns began.3

Retail distributor TV Media sold over 16,000 bottles of Slim 10 pills to NTUC Healthcare Pharmacy, as well as health and beauty retailers Watsons and Guardian, between December 2001 and April 2002.4 By May 2002, over 20,000 bottles of Slim 10 costing S$149.90 per bottle had been sold.5 A publicity campaign involving local actress Chen Liping was launched in December 2001 touting the weight-loss capabilities of the Slim 10 pills.6

Adverse effects on health and ban
On 15 April 2002, HSA ordered Slim 10 to be taken off the shelves after routine laboratory tests of products retailed in the market revealed that the pills contained two controlled substances.7 The two undeclared ingredients were fenfluramine, which is often linked to heart-valve problems, and nicotinamide.8 Both ingredients were not listed on the packaging of the pills.9 The HSA estimated that around 20,000 people had been exposed to Slim 10.10 Later, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, both also banned substances, were detected in Slim 10 as well.11

By May 2002, the HSA had received 13 reports from Slim 10 users who suffered adverse health effects from taking the pills. Of these, nine reports came after the HSA’s warning in mid-April.12 Doctors reported that possible side effects of Slim 10 include hyperthyroidism (leading to heart palpitations or increased blood pressure) and liver toxicity.13

Victims
On 9 May 2002, Slim 10 user Selvarani Raja was admitted to the National University Hospital with jaundice. She was suffering from liver toxicity, which eventually led to liver failure. The 43-year-old logistics executive had been taking Slim 10 pills from January to March 2002. Attempts to find a suitable liver donor for Raja were not successful despite a number of volunteers coming forward.14 Raja died from liver failure on 1 June 2002.15 The state coroner’s report in March 2003 ruled that her liver failure had been caused by the consumption of Slim 10 pills.16


Another Slim 10 user who suffered liver failure was local actress Andrea De Cruz. She had purchased Slim 10 pills from actor and colleague Rayson Tan.17 De Cruz suffered liver failure and was hospitalised in April 2002.18 She underwent a successful 12-hour liver transplant after her then fiancé (now husband), Pierre Png, donated part of his liver to her. She was discharged two weeks after the historic operation that marks the first non-related transplant from a living person.19 De Cruz was subsequently put on long-term medication to prevent liver rejection20 and advised by doctors to avoid having children due to potential health risks.21

Charges against Slim 10 importer and distributor
In June 2002, the HSA filed charges against Slim 10 importer Health Biz and its president and director, Semon Liu.22 Health Biz was found guilty on eight counts of failing to declare Slim 10 poison-free and one count of failing to keep import records. A fine of S$45,000 was imposed for the nine charges.23 Health Biz’s import and wholesale dealer licenses were also revoked.24 Another 32 charges against the company, including that of selling poisonous substances illegally, were dropped.25

Distributor TV Media was charged in July the same year with 58 counts of selling Slim 10 without a wholesale license and continuing to sell Slim 10 after the product had been banned. TV Media was eventually found guilty of 28 charges for selling Slim 10 after the withdrawal deadline and for selling the pills without a wholesale licence.26 The distributor was fined S$64,000,27 and Slim 10 customers were also offered a full refund from TV Media for the cost they had paid for the pills.28

Civil suits
In June 2002, De Cruz sued Slim 10, Yuzhitang Health Products, HealthBiz, Liu, TV Media and Tan. Her negligence suit claimed damages for her injuries and subsequent need for a liver transplant.29

The case concluded in October 2003 with Health Biz and TV Media ordered to pay compensation to De Cruz for medical expenses, suffering, loss of income and legal costs, which totalled S$1.83 million. After an appeal by the two companies, the total award to De Cruz was reduced to around S$1.63 million.30 The suit against Tan was dismissed, with De Cruz ordered to pay his legal costs.31

In February 2005, Sharlin Raja, the sister of victim Selvarani Raja, filed a lawsuit in the High Court against TV Media and Slim 10 retailer NTUC Healthcare, claiming damages for psychiatric injuries suffered by her family arising from Selvarani’s death, her wrongful death and the loss of Selvarani’s income.32 Both defendants in this case reached an out-of-court settlement with Sharlin.33

Impact
After news emerged of Slim 10’s adverse health effects, the HSA tested all 45 Chinese proprietary medicines marketed in Singapore as slimming products.34 Sales of traditional Chinese slimming products reportedly fell by up to 20 percent after the case.35

After the Slim 10 saga, the HSA began reviewing its regulations for the import of medicines, leading to a number of new rules including greater clarity in the labelling of Chinese proprietary medicines, test reports for every consignment of medicines, and more stringent testing.36 In February 2007, the Health Products Act was introduced, bringing about tougher penalties for those who flout health laws. The Act also gave the HSA more authority to withdraw from public sale medical products that have been tampered with.37



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Slimming agent may affect heart. (2002, May 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Cheong, C. K. (2002, May 12). 17 health products withdrawn since 1999. The Straits Times, p. 1; Medicines checked to ensure safety. (2002, May 12). The New Paper, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Liang, H. T. (2002, May 7). 13 down with hepatitis, thyroid problem after taking Slim 10. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Frances, J. (2002, July 17). TV Media’s Slim 10 troubles. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Refunds for slimming pills. (2002, May 10). The Straits Times, p. 8; Liang, H. T. (2002, May 30). Slim 10 distributor helping with checks. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Liang, H. T. (2002, May 7). 13 down from hepatitis, thyroid problem after taking Slim 10. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. HSA receives negative reports of slimming pill ‘Slim 10’. (2002, May 6). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva; Leong, P. P. (2002, April 25). Slimming surprise. Today, p. 1; Stop taking Slim 10. (2002, May 1). The New Paper, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Slimming product ‘Slim 10’ could cause heart problems – HSA. (2002, April 30). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva; Nathan, D. (2002, June 15). Pill importer ‘knew nothing’. The Straits Times, p. 1; Liang, H. T. (2002, May 7). 13 down with hepatitis, thyroid problem after taking Slim 10. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Prompt action taken on Slim 10: HAS. (2002, June 12). Today, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. HSA receives negative reports of slimming pill ‘Slim 10’. (2002, May 6). Channelnewsasia. Retrieved from Factiva.
11. Wong, S. M. (2002, June 19). Slim 10: Another banned substance affected 12 victims. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. HSA receives negative reports of slimming pill ‘Slim 10’. (2002, May 6). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
13. Chinese slimming product sales down 20% after Slim 10 scare. (2002, June 6). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
14. Liang, H. T. (2002, May 30). Liver patient’s condition worsen. The Straits Times, p. 3; Liang, H. T. (2002, May 28). Slim 10: Another woman needs liver transplant. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Chang, A. L., & Wong, S. M. (2002, June 2). ‘Bring justice for me if I die’. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chong, E. (2003, June 23). Slim 10 Negligence suit starts amid buzz. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Wong, S. (2002, July 24). Distributor of Slim 10 pleads guilty. The Straits Times, p. 6; Yee, W. Z. (2002, August 5). Andrea explains why. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Yeoh, W. T., & Teo, W. (2002, May 7). Sis: I’ve never seen her take pills. The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Chong, E., & Ho, K. (2003, July 8). Andrea’s fiancé in tears in court. The Straits Times, p. 3; Khalik, S., & Liang, H. T. (2002, May 8). Dying Andrea’s boyfriend donates liver. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Liang, H. T. (2002, May 22). Andrea home, with a ‘new lease of life’. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Cruz-ing ahead. (2007, 21 May). The Straits Times, p, 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Quek, E. (2002, June 5). Finally…. Today, p. 2; Slim 10 Man charged. (2002, June 5). The New Paper, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Chong, E. (2002, September 27). Surprise end to Slim 10 case… and several questions left unanswered. The Straits Times, p. 3; Foo, S. (2002, September 27). Not over for Slim 10 man. Today, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Chong, E. (2002, September 27). Surprise end to Slim 10 case…and several questions left unanswered. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Slim 10 case. (2002, September 27). The New Paper, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Wong, S. (2002, July 31). Distributor of Slim 10 fined $64,000. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Chong, E. (2003, June 23). Slim 10 Negligence suit starts amid buzz. The Straits Times, p. 4; Frances, J. (2002, July 31). TV media fined, decides to refund $300,000 to Slim 10 customers. Today, p. 2; Wong, S. (2002, July 31). Distributor of Slim 10 fined $64,000. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Frances, J. (2002, July 31). TV media fined, decides to refund $300,000 to Slim 10 customers. Today, p. 2; Refunds for slimming pills. (2002, May 10). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Lim, A. (2002, June 26). Actress sues all involved with Slim 10. The Straits Times, p. 3; Wong, S. (2002, July 24). Distributor of Slim 10 pleads guilty. The Straits Times, p.6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Vijayan, K. C. (2004, July 9). Court rules in favour of Andrea but damages cut. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Chan, C. (2006, September 13). Pay up your share of damages costs. The New Paper, p. 3. Retrieved NewspaperSG.
32. Singh, K. (2005, February 23). Slim 10 victim’s sister files lawsuit. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Vijayan, K. C. (2004. July 9). Victim’s sis and 2 parties settle suit. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Wong, S. M. (2002, June 19). Slim 10: Another banned substance affected 12 victims. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Chinese slimming product sales down 20% after Slim 10 scare. (2002, June 6). Channelnewsasia. Retrieved from Factiva.
36. Measures being put in place. (2002, September 6). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. HSA gets more teeth to pull unsafe health products off shelves. (2007, February 12). Channelnewsasia. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Actions and defenses--Singapore
Appetite depressants--Side effects
Law and government>>Regulatory role
Health and medicine>>Healthy living>>Substance abuse avoidance
Politics and Government>>Health
Public health
Weight loss--Singapore

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