The Chinese government launched a five-month campaign on Tuesday to combat illegal online pharmaceutical sales, the latest in a spate of efforts to clean up online activities.
The campaign will primarily focus on websites that have obtained Internet drug sale licenses but were found to have been involved in the promotion or sale of fake drugs, according to department authorities.
The campaign was jointly launched by China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), the State Internet Information Office, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Public Security and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, according to a statement issued by the departments.
Vendors who market drugs on the Internet without obtaining business licenses and those selling fake drugs will also be targeted during the campaign, the statement said.
The problematic drugs sold by the websites ranged from those claimed to be able to cure tumors, sexual dysfunction, diabetes and high blood pressure have been listed as "major targets," according to the statement, adding that the campaign will also crack down on producers of counterfeit drugs.
Regulations relevant to online drug sales will be revised, and drug producers, traders and consumers are encouraged to provide tips in order to regulate online drug sales, it added.
Statistics from the CFDA showed that a total of 85 websites across China have been issued with a license for Internet medicine business, with their trading volume exceeding 1.6 billion yuan (261.11 million U.S. dollars) in 2012, four times more than in 2011.
Legal online drug stores are marked with license numbers at prominent locations on their websites and provide consumers with real-time online verification and e-contract services, the administration said.
It added that online stores are only eligible to sell over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and consumers can verify the qualifications of the stores at the administrations's official website (www.sda.gov.cn).
Hu Yinglian, associate professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance told Xinhua that harsher punishment should be employed to crack down on such online illegal activities rather than only fines.
"The violators should not only receive administrative punishment, but also a legal penalty," said Hu.
Many efforts have been made by the Chinese government to supervise online drug trafficking through warnings and shutting down illegal websites, Hu said, adding that a supervision system should be established despite supervision being a universal problem.
According to China's Criminal Law, those producing or selling fake drugs could face the death penalty if drugs sold result in death or serious damage.