We have good laws in Botswana. They’re not perfect, some of them need updating and there are certainly some gaps but we do rather well.
We’re always quoting the Consumer Protection Regulations but also the regulations covering packaged goods, food hygiene, the marking of goods and standards. We’re also often consulting one of the most important pieces of law we have. The Penal Code.
In particular, I’m very fond of Section 195 of the Penal Code which, while discussing defamation, says that a defamatory publication is not unlawful if “the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”. That’s helped us considerably when companies have threatened to take us to court for saying bad (but true) things about them. All we’ve needed to do was remind them, or their extremely expensive attorneys, that what we said was true and that clearly the public needed to know it. Every single time they’ve then left us alone.
However, a much more important section of the Penal Code is at its very end. Sections 396-399 talk about what are called “prohibited advertisements”. It says that “Any person shall be guilty of an offence who as principal, agent or servant, publishes or causes or assists to be published any prohibited advertisement.”
So what exactly is a “prohibited advertisement”? The Penal Code says that it’s “any advertisement of any medicine … as being effective for any of the following purposes”.
Those purposes include “the cure of venereal diseases”, “the prevention, relief or cure of cancer, tuberculosis, leprosy, diabetes, epilepsy”, “the cure of arteriosclerosis, septicaemia, diphtheria, gallstones, kidney stones and bladder stones, heart disease, tetanus, pleurisy, pneumonia, scarlet-fever, smallpox, amenorrhoea, hernia, blindness” and “the cure of any habit associated with sexual indulgence, or of any ailment associated with those habits or for the promotion of sexual virility, desire or fertility or for the restoration or stimulation of the mental faculties”.
So why is this important? Are there really any people or companies advertising treatments for “the prevention, relief or cure of cancer”? Or for heart disease? Or sexually transmitted diseases, or as the law calls them using a rather old-fashioned term, “venereal diseases”?
Yes, unfortunately there are
If you’re on Facebook (and I know many of you are), you will have seen messages recently from a variety of people offering a range of “opportunities”. One I saw recently, from an enterprising Filipino, said:
“HELLO BOTSWANA! We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone? DOING IT PART TIME and AT HOME. Just comment “HOW” below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. First 10 person will be prioritized!!!! HURRY!! Let Do this 7 heads INVESTMENT. JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”
Did you notice something curious about that advertisement? It doesn’t mention what the product is. What is it that can earn you up to P3,200 each day? That’s always a clue that you’ve met someone trying to recruit you
Any legitimate business will tell you immediately what products they sell. They’ll be proud of them. A company that seems to hide what their products might be clearly has something to hide. If you dig deep enough you can discover the product they’re selling. But first, who are they? Their company is “Alliance in Motion Global”, a Filipino multi-level marketing scheme that sells nutritional supplements. I should point out that there’s nothing illegal or wrong about food supplements, they’re just entirely unnecessary for almost all of us. With very few exceptions none of us need to take them. A reasonably balanced diet involving plenty of fruit and vegetables will give us all the nutrients a normal person will ever need. Supplements are an expensive waste of money.
However, the supplement that AIM Global sells is a different matter. It’s not just a vitamin pill, it’s something dangerous. They call it C247 and they make some extraordinary claims. They claim that “C247” can help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, heart diseases, hypertension, low sperm count, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”.
We know what that last one means, don’t we? They mean that their product can help people with AIDS. Add to that their claim that the product can help with cancer, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases and you have what is clearly a series of prohibited advertisements, don’t you think? Isn’t this exactly what Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code forbid?
You might be asking yourself whether this is actually a real concern. So what if some fools sign up for a pyramid scheme and lose some money or some other people buy their ridiculous product that they claim can treat every disease you can imagine? So what? It’s harmless, you might suggest.
I beg to differ. My fear is that someone who is unwell, perhaps battling cancer or fighting AIDS will be seduced by the claims of these peddlers of lies and will stop taking their real medication, perhaps throw away their ARVs and take AIM Global’s product instead. You might think this doesn’t happen but I can introduce you to doctors who’ve told me that it does. They can tell you about their patients, desperate for a miracle cure who have done exactly this and have paid the ultimate price. They died as a result of taking a product like C247 that they were promised could perform miracles. Luckily, we have a weapon against them. The law. The question is who is prepared to use it?
Perhaps more effective is for people like you and me to take action to stop them peddling this dangerous product. Let’s comment every time we see their advertisements on Facebook, telling them that their advertisements are illegal and their scheme is too suspicious. Who needs the law when you have people power?