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China Crest advert looses its sparkle with US$1m fine

[SHANGHAI] Chinese regulators have fined US consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble nearly US$1 million for "false advertising" over claims a type of Crest toothpaste can whiten teeth, a government statement said Tuesday.

The Shanghai Administration of Industry and Commerce said a television ad for Crest brand toothpaste featuring a popular Taiwan talk show host used "excessive" digital enhancement to make her teeth appear whiter and levied a fine of 6.03 million yuan (S$1.36m).

China's official Xinhua news agency said the fine was the country's largest ever in a false advertising case.

In the ad, actress and host Dee Hsu - also known by the stage name Xiao S - says "See my whiter smile, it only takes one day."

P&G said the ad stopped airing last year and defended its products, according to a statement posted on the Chinese microblog for Crest. It did not confirm the fine.

The company said that the toothpaste, marketed in China under the name "3D White", together with proper brushing and its whitening strips "can effectively remove external stains, making teeth whiter".

An official of the Shanghai regulator said digital enhancement can only be used in adverts in which the changes were irrelevant, such as making the sky more blue in a car ad, Xinhua reported.

Over the past two years, Chinese authorities have stepped up scrutiny of foreign companies, launching sweeping investigations into alleged malpractice in sectors ranging from autos to pharmaceuticals.

A recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai found over half of its member firms felt that China's regulatory investigations were more likely to target foreign companies than domestic ones.

"Lack of transparency in how companies are selected for investigation is the biggest challenge for foreign firms confronting anti-monopoly and anti-corruption actions, followed by an unclear regulatory basis for an investigation," the association said in its annual business climate report.

"Both factors help create an environment in which companies feel anxious and vulnerable."