The power to kill off illicit drinks business is ultimately in the hands of the consumers; we should cease falling for the concoctions’ health claims. (Image for illustration purposes only)

Caveat emptor, or “let the buyer beware”, has a long history. And there is a good reason for it: consumers hold the wallet.

This power cannot be taken away if we do not surrender it willingly. But apathy and gullibility of many make them readily reach for the ringgit.

This is notwithstanding the fact that the media have, now and then, highlighted the dangers of the deadly drinks. Health agencies, too, have highlighted the danger the menacing mixture pose to people who suffer from heart-related ailments.

But people persist. And we forget easily too.

Only four years ago, Harian Metro front-paged the case of a 36-year-old man succumbing to his death after he drank Kopi Jantan Tradisional that he bought from a shop in Subang for RM5.

According to the Health Ministry pharmaceutical division deputy director, Mazlan Ismail, tests conducted on Kopi Jantan Tradisional showed it to have a high dosage of sildenafil, a controlled poison.

Other concoctions sold in the market were found to be similarly deadly.

Of the samples tested by the Health Ministry, 129 were found to contain controlled poisons such as tadanafil, sibutramine, dexamethasone and sildenafil. Somehow the marketers of the illicit concoctions manage to beat a path to the customers’ wallets.

How so? Scheming merchants of illicit concoctions, such as Kopi Jantan Tradisional and Kopi Kuat, slip the beverages past the authorities onto the shelf in the guise of food items, which unlike drugs, do not require registration with the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA).

And the merchants of death know this only too well: they exploit the loophole to the hilt. But NPRA cannot let the battle against such beverages to be fought by the consumers alone. Caveat emptor can only do so much. Now that NPRA knows that the beverages are slipping past them, it should require the vendors to register with the agency. If loopholes in the rules and regulations stand in NPRA’s or other authorities’ way, these must be plugged. And they must be plugged with haste.

Squabbling between NPRA and the Food Safety and Quality Division within the Health Ministry does neither of them any good. In fact, such squabbles enrich the illicit merchants.

Laws, too, may have to be amended. The Poisons Act 1952 is one such law.

As it is presently worded, merchants of illicit drinks who sell beverages with sex stimulants face only a maximum fine of RM3,000 or an imprisonment of three years. Mazlan says this is not deterrent enough.

We agree. Similarly, the Food Act 1983 needs to hand out harsher penalties. Currently, anyone contravening the act face a fine not exceeding RM100,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years.

No hardcore criminal will be deterred by this.

The authorities shouldn’t just stop there; they must ensure that their reach extends to the black market too.

Because it is in this dark space that the illicit vendor meets the gullible consumer. Greed, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

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