BEIJING - Former NBA star Yao Ming is being sued by Beijing resident Feng Changshun for endorsing a health food product that Feng said misleads consumers, in one of the first consumer rights cases involving a celebrity since a new protection law was enacted in March.
Feng is suing Baxsun Pharmacy, a retail chain in Beijing, for exaggerating the benefits of its fish oil capsules.
Yao, a spokesman for the product, is also being sued. Beijing's Xicheng district court has confirmed that it will hear the case.
Feng said he is seeking 500 yuan (S$100.14) in compensation from the retail chain and 0.01 yuan from Yao Ming.
"(The lawsuit) is symbolic. I want (Yao Ming) to admit to infringements of my rights," he said
The court said no date has been set for a hearing.
According to the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, enacted on March 15, social groups and individuals who endorse products or services that harm consumers should be held liable together with the producer or service provider.
Feng said he bought a bottle of fish oil capsules in February at a Baxsun Pharmacy store because he suffers from occasional memory loss and poor eyesight. Sales assistants at the store gave him a promotional pamphlet about the product and said the fish oil capsules, produced by Guangzhou-based By-Health Co, would help remedy his ailments.
"According to the handout, the product could help ease my sufferings," he said.
Feng said he is a big fan of Yao, and the fact that the former NBA star endorsed the product was a major reason why he bought it.
"I adore Yao and I decided to buy the product to support him," Feng said.
But the oil capsules failed to cure his ailments and Feng later discovered that fish oil is only considered a health food, not medicine.
"I am angry because it has delayed my medical treatment. It feels like I have been used as a lab mouse," Feng said.
Yao has been the face for By-Health Co, a producer of health foods and dietary supplements, since December 2010 and has so far appeared in a number of commercials for the company. His image appears on the package of the fish oil capsule bottles.
"Yao exercised discretion when he selected the company to endorse it, believing it is an accountable enterprise," said Lu Hao, Yao's agent in China.
He said Yao has spoken to the company about the lawsuit and understands that information about its products on the company's websites and promotional pamphlets is within the limits as permitted by the law and "is not misleading".
"Yao will pay close attention to the issue and respect the facts. He also has big concerns about consumer rights protection," Lu said.
By-Health said in a statement on Wednesday that its promotions of fish oil capsules are in accordance with the law, and the quality of its products meets safety standards.
Yue Weiping, a manager of operations at Baxsun Pharmacy, said the company has been notified by the court about the case and is communicating with By-Health.
Qiu Baochang, head of Huijia Law Firm in Beijing and a consumer rights lawyer, said the case is a warning to celebrities in representing a product or service.
"They should choose their words carefully when they endorse products related to consumers' health," he said.