As the direct impact of COVID-19 in China gradually subsides, the government has released the 2020 legislation plans and the working report for the first quarter of 2020. This article uses those sources to examine the enforcement against false advertisements in 2020 to date and looks ahead at the legislative trend for China's advertising laws in 2020.

SAMR's Key Working Points in 2020

On March 9, 2020, the State Administration for Market Regulation ("SAMR") and ten other government authorities jointly issued the Notice on Key Points of the Joint Conference on Combating False Advertising in 2020  ("Notice").  According to the Notice, the government will focus its enforcement efforts as follows: cracking down on false advertisements concerning people's health and property safety (such as health food, medical treatment, drugs, real estate, financial investment and financial management); strengthening supervision over emerging forms of advertising; curbing false and illegal advertisements on mobile apps and social media accounts; and cleaning up advertisements that have pornographic content.

Meanwhile, in the flood of news concerning COVID-19 cases, a variety of false advertisements promising to "prevent the virus" emerged. The Notice provides that throughout the ongoing period of prevention and control work related to COVID-19, there shall be coordinated supervision and enforcement efforts on false advertisements related to monitoring advertisements involving illegal wildlife trade, protective equipment (such as masks), and false information regarding epidemic prevention and control.

Enforcement in First Quarter of 2020

On March 27, 2020, the SAMR released the first batch of typical false advertisement cases in 2020, among which four advertisers were fined from RMB 200,000 to RMB 300,000 for using words such as "effectively prevent from COVID-19 or coronavirus" in ads related to healthy food, health products, oral spray and tea.  One advertiser was fined RMB 180,000 for stating that its vegetables could improve human immunity. Another serious false advertisement, falsely claiming that a mask was "surgical" quality, was deemed a crime and has been transferred to the public security.

Guides for Advertisements for Drugs, Medical Devices, Healthy Food and Foods for Special Medical Purposes

In fact, as far back as December 24, 2019, the SAMR already issued the Interim Administrative Measures for Censorship of Advertisements for Drugs, Medical Devices, Healthy Food and Foods for Special Medial Purpose ("Measures"), which became effective as of March 1, 2020.  The Measures provides detailed requirements on advertisements for drugs, medical devices, healthy food and foods for special medical purposes.

What to Expect in 2020

Online live-streaming became most the popular form of promotion in 2019 and is still growing in 2020. This has spurred a need for the Interim Measures for the Administration of Internet Advertising, which was issued in 2015, to be updated. We are pleased to find this legislation under the "to-be-amended" list of the 2020 Legislation Plan. In addition, the Certain Regulations of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce on Prohibiting Unfair Competition Activity Concerning Imitating Specific Names, Packaging or Decoration of Well-known Commodities, which was issued in 1995, is also on the amendment list.

We will keep an eye on these amendments and also look forward to a substantial decrease of false advertisements in the name of preventing COVID-19.

Originally published by GALA, April 2020

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