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Nigeria Issues Toothpaste Ban

Nigerian health officials are cracking down on all foreign-manufactured toothpaste following the discovery of a harmful agent in a Chinese-made brand. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that retailers have been ordered to destroy the illegal pastes.

Nigeria's Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control says the ban on foreign-manufactured toothpaste was prompted by a recent discovery that some China-produced pastes contained a toxic substance called diethylene glycol.

Head of the food and drug safety watchdog, Dora Akunyili, told VOA the agency had not approved the use of any foreign-made toothpaste in Nigeria. She said they were illegally imported.

"When we got information that most toothpaste imported from China contained diethylene glycol, and that most Colgate produced outside the country contained diethylene glycol, we felt comfortable to tell the public not to buy any toothpaste imported into Nigeria, because as at date, we have not registered any imported toothpaste," said Akunyili. "It means that all imported toothpastes in Nigeria today were smuggled."

An anti-freezing agent, diethylene glycol can lead to abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, kidney and liver damage and could be fatal if taken in large doses.

Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine - cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs - a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products. China a major source of counterfeit drugs.

Akunyili says illegal paste may have contributed to growing cases of kidney and liver damage in Nigeria.

"Diethylene glycol causes liver and kidney damage and we've had a lot of crises with diethylene glycol in the past," she said.

The agency has ordered retailers to destroy all foreign-made pastes or face prosecution.

Food and drug safety investigators say counterfeit products remain a huge problem in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country of 150 million people.