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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Bad For The Health Is Good For Business

       PM2.5 has been a buzzword in China for the last couple of years. With the Air Quality Index (AQI) scaling beyond the borders of the scale itself, the air pollution in the biggest cities of the country has reached new levels of bad.
Due to the heavily industrialised east coast of the country and the severely outdated technology in production, the air in major cities and centres has become seriously hazardous to the inhabitants.
PM2.5 is a particle of size 2.5 micrometers or less. It's easily inhaled and is the reason for many lung and respiratory problems including cancer. It's small enough to lodge in the cavities of the insides of the lungs and stay there for good (...or rather - bad).

That said, you must already know that buzzwords are the manna of God to business developers and entrepreneurs. You see, the thing with buzzwords is everybody has seen or heard of them, even though they might not know what they mean or stand for. They're recognizable and identifiable within seconds, and that is exactly what the people mentioned above aim for.

To create a brand everyone knows and has heard of takes years and years of marketing campaigns and advertising efforts, but buzzwords are already at that step, without time or investment.
So what do you do? You incorporate them into the product you develop and research and BAM! – instant publicity and mass recognition. Your product is already there with the simple word written on the label, or the packaging.

With PM2.5 being the major leader in the ladder in terms of health in China, naturally, people have found a way to make serious money from it.

Because the travellers became increasingly concerned when the only thing that followed China on the news and social media was #smog,  #pollution and #airquality, travel agencies have now introduced the “smog insurance” to the visitors.
Since nobody can actually guarantee you good air during your trip to the Country, the “smog insurance” policies act as a return bond if conditions are not met.

Ping An – the state insurance company and the biggest travel company in China –, have joined forces to introduce the so called “haze travel insurance package”. It is offered in six Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an, which are both severely polluted and a huge tourist point of interest.
The scheme works as follows - if you buy this insurance and visit any of the locations listed in it, you may file a complaint if you experience AQI over a set limit. The limit varies and is somewhat unique to each city, but for Shanghai it is set to 100.
The policy was available for international and homeland tourists, and would cost one pound (10 RMB), but promise a return of 5 pounds (50 RMB) for each consecutive day of AQI over the set limit.

If you remember the Beijing smog from the news and Internet, you know the AQI blasted over 300 for three weeks straight, and after some downtime went over 150 on the 23rd of March.

The other of the two biggest insurers in the country (Ping An being of them) – PICC (People's insurance company of China) offered a plan to Beijing residents. It guaranteed a return of 150 pounds (1500RMB) to anyone hospitalised due to the quality of the air and 30 pounds (300RMB) for any consecutive day of AQI over 300.

Almost a week ago, Reuters reported that China regulators have turned the valve on the insurance sales, prohibiting any further involvement. The ones already sold will still be honoured. Certainly, it's not a huge loss to both companies, as even though there are no hard figures to be found, you can easily picture those policies being sold like hot bread.

The "anti-pollution" market has been growing with an enormous amount each year from 2011 till now. It includes air-filtration products, such as air-purifying devices, face masks and even cosmetics. In 2013, the biggest online e-commerce site in China - Taobao cashed in over 84 million pounds solely out of anti-smog products. The website estimated an astonishing increase of 180% in purchases of face masks compared to the previous year.

The face masks, although branded differently come mostly from a single location - Dadian, a village in the Shandong province.
There are situated 300 workshops, focused solely on the production and manufacturing of face masks. They supply 80% of the entire produce in the country.
However, the masks are not transported directly to the shops. They're first bought from various companies, who slap their logos and brands and promises of protection on top, along with THEIR price and then re-sell them to the population.

Obviously, the effectiveness of the different masks would be similar, if not the same. Recently, the China Consumers Association (CCA) tested out an array of products and determined that only 9 out of the 37 actually work in the pollution conditions.
The most expensive of them with the price of 20 pounds were no better than the cheapest, disposable ones costing mere pennies. Only the 9 products filtered the fine PM2.5 particles and allowed for easy breathing and effective protection.
Regardless, most of the merchandise is sold as an effective anti-smog or anti-PM2.5 mask and bares different price tags.

The head of the Dadian Face Mask Association and owner of a mask factory himself has directly said the village produces regular masks, not anti-pollution ones, which clearly indicates that much of the merchandise is sold under false promises or protection.

Along with the CCA, Lei Limin - vice chairman of the China Textile Commerce Association is pushing for a national standard over the quality of the masks and a control unit to guarantee it's upheld.
The low quality and lack of guarantees is the reason, many citizens have turned eyes on imported merchandise. Since production in other countries is more tightly controlled by standard enforcing organizations, western import has started to gain an increasing popularity and traction.

Vogmask is a company producing high-spec protection masks, based in Nevada, US. Their maks come in different versions and colours, so everyone can integrate it into their clothing, as more of a accessory, rather than a protection equipment. The Vogmask has successfully filtered 99.978% of the hazardous particles, allowing for safe and easy breathing.
The company registered an increase of interest in Chinese clients - mainly full company purchases and school orders. Along with actually being effective, the masks, they offer, are cheaper than some of the products offered in the motherland, standing between 15 and 22 pounds.
This is in no way a commercial for to company, but rather a comparison between those who do their work and those who cash in fast money.
Without any research on the air-filtration devices, I can pretty much guarantee you the situation is no different. Quick and easy profit outweighs quality and good service.

Since skin is exposed to the heavily polluted air, many cosmetic companies started to "develop" skin treatment products with anti-PM2.5 effect or protection. Even though the particles can't effectively penetrate the skin and cause internal health problems, they can have a negative effect on the skin itself, by lodging in the pores and be a reason for dry skin or acne.

Products lines include properties like UV protection, detoxification, deep cleansing and isolation of the skin, by applying protective film on the surface of the skin.
Given, people's vanity is as big as their health concerns, there has been an increase in the purchases of products baring such promises, reports Cosmetics Design Asia

The article focuses on more effective skin treatment products, but a quotation of their researching expert states even though many brands and products have integrated PM2.5 into their packaging and advertisement efforts, there is no proven link between the merchandise and the promises coming with it.
While some may certainly have a beneficial effect, you can assume that most cheap and generally low quality products sell nothing but ordinary cosmetics with anti-PM2.5 slapped on the label.

The reason for this article and the most recent (and quite frankly the most disgusting of them all) attempt to leverage the situation is the publicity stunt from yesterday in Zhengzhou.

In broad daylight, 20 bright blue bags of fresh, mountain air were displayed and offered to the people of the polluted city. The organizer of the event - a Henan travel company, aimed to increase travel rates to Laojun Mountain, by showing the citizens how much they're missing. The Laojun mountain is situated almost 200 kilometres from the city and is where the fresh air allegedly came from.

It sounds like a bad April Fool's day joke and I really wish it were, but the images bellow show exactly how real it is.

Many elder citizen, children and people with special needs, like pregnant women and ones with respiratory conditions, lined up to have a gasp or two of the fresh air. Each person's time on the installation was limited to a few minutes and thus, people squeezed the bags in hopes of getting that one bit of clean air more, before their time elapsed, reports the state-run China News Service.

Even though it was practically like accepting leftovers from somebody's meal, those who had the chance to remind themselves what pure air was like, were extremely grateful. A pregnant woman shared how she felt her unborn child move with the first breath of non-toxic air she took. She added she'd enjoy to go and visit Laojun Mountain when offspring comes to life.

Certainly the advertisement was successful for it's organizer and I wont be surprised to see the travel rates to the mountain increase, but it also proves to illustrate how grotesque the situation has become for the people of China.

Shocking as it is, however, this is not first case of such an event. A can of air - something that sounds so ridiculous to me and you, has actually been a subject of purchase since 2012.

Under the noble quest of raising attention to the environmental issues of the country, Chen Guangbian - a Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist, began selling canned fresh air. The cans were filled with pressurised air, which upon depletion triggered a chip, installed in the can to close it and indicate the can is deprived of its use.

Even though, as a product it was met with a lot of reservation and rather unwillingness to buy, Chen's canned air achieved it's original purpose and rose awareness to the problems regarding the environment. It's main customers were environmental supporter and numbered more than a thousand for a single day.

All in all, what's bad for the health is good for business it seems. I'm sure if you dug the Internet about any prolonged incident or disaster, you'd see quite some many examples of people turning sadness into profit and benefits for themselves.
It's painful to see this happening, but it's also not surprising given the nature of people as we are.