Shining candy sold to kids after ban

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Vendors around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City schools are still selling a new lollipop that was banned a week earlier after its luminescent stick was found to contain a chemical that can cause cancer.

A vendor at Hanoi's Dich Vong A Primary School said, "I'm trying to sell some sticks left. This candy does no harm."

But Le Thi Hong Hao, deputy head of the National Institute of Food Safety, said on March 26 the candy stick contains the pollutant Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Some PAH compounds have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic.

PAH combines with the solvent Phtalate to produce light when the children break the stick and shake it a little bit, Hao said.

She said PAH is highly toxic and in Vietnam, is only allowed to be used for industrial purposes, like making paint.

In HCMC, several shops at Binh Tay and Tran Binh wholesale markets in District 6 were found selling a box of 20 sticks for less than VND20,000 (US$1) last Tuesday.

Bigger shops said they have returned the candy or destroyed them as there were very few left.

But city health inspectors said the shops have hidden the candy after the cancer warning.

The luminescent lollipop has been very popular among primary schools in Hanoi and HCMC.

HCMC market managers on March 30 found 114 luminescent lollipops around schools in districts 6 and 10, as well as Nguyen Huu Tho Primary and Junior High School in District 7.

Children said they liked the candy's many colors yellow, pink, green and blue and others said they liked that they could both eat it and play with its stick.

Dr. Nguyen Hong Quyen from the Institute of Materials Science said the sticks presented a health risk if curious children were to smash and break them to find out what the substance inside is.

"In principle, any luminescence is not good for health."

Luminescent toys are banned in many countries.

The origin of the lollipop is still unknown as the label is in English and does not name the producer.

Huynh Le Thai Hoa, head of HCMC Food Safety and Hygiene Department, said he would continue to work with the Education and Training Department and schools to check whether the lollipops were still being sold, and would advise children and their parents to avoid the candy.

Hoa said confectionary producers always try to impress children with colorful, cheap and attractive products.

"Parents should tell them not to buy such strange sweets as there are high risks of getting poisoned."

Last year, 25 students at Kim Dong Primary School in District 6, HCMC were hospitalized after eating candy from a packet one of them picked up on the street. The candy had different colors and the label was in Chinese.

While carrying out checks regarding the luminescent sticks, Hanoi health officials have found different confectionary products with many colors and animal shapes that children find attractive.

The product labels were all in foreign languages, which is against regulations that require Vietnamese labels on imported products.

The officials said they planned to expand operations and revoke all the cakes and candy in local markets that don't have clear origin.

Nguyen Cong Khan, head of the Food Safety and Hygiene Department under the Ministry of Health, said such products contain a very high risk of poisoning consumers, especially children.

"We must destroy them without having to conduct any tests."

On March 26, the department asked all cities and provinces to recall lollipops with luminescent sticks without testing them.

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