By Cory Gaskins
There is no such thing as “bad publicity,” right? Not unless people start using your products to kill themselves. Last week saw Mutoushou Pharmaceutical, a 120-year old company, announce that it would finally be closing down due to the adverse publicity it received over the hydrogen sulfide suicide scandal earlier this year. Over the last year, the company’s main product came under the spotlight as one of the main ingredients needed to create the poisonous gas used by people to commit suicide. The bath liquid, which contains sulfur, has been widely used in Japan for over a century, and is so popular that it has been dubbed a “national bath liquid.” But this year, it became well known that when mixed with other products, it produces poisonous toxic fumes powerful enough to kill.
It has been reported that more than 500 people used this method to commit suicide this year. However, hydrogen sulfide not only harms the suicidal, but also those in the near vicinity. People attempting to rescue the victims have found themselves in hospital because of toxicity of the fumes, while those living in the vicinity were forced to evacuate—in severe cases, up to 300 people were forced to evacuate, and other cases saw family members lethally poisoned by the fumes.
The media started reporting these kinds of suicide cases late last year, and many believe that these media reports lead to a string of copycat suicides. The Internet also started to become a source of information for people wanting to know more about hydrogen sulfide poisoning, with some detailing the necessary processes. A few sites even had applications where users could calculate how much liquid would be necessary for poisoning by inputting the dimensions of the bathroom. The information offered online was comprehensive—one even had printable, ready-made caution signs saying that “poisonous gas was being produced.”
Although many of the Websites have already been taken down, Website providers remain reluctant to do so unless they find it absolutely necessary, arguing that freedom of speech must be protected and that realistically, even if they pull down every single “DIY suicide” site, it wouldn’t matter because another site would simply be set up and the “advisor” would alter the name of the products slightly so as to not be detected.
While the traditional media often blame the Internet for “condoning” suicide, many within the Net community find the argument one-sided. Although they admit that the information on how to commit suicide is readily available online, they argue that the traditional media should be held responsible for continuously covering the suicide epidemic.
Media has always played a part in copycat suicides. Past cases have shown that when a famous figure commits suicide and the media breaks the news, the very same media often find themselves informing the public of copycat suicides (this is commonly known as the Werther effect).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted the great influence journalism holds when it broadcasts suicide news. WHO has urged the media to not post any detailed information on suicides in order ensure that similar cases do not occur. In the case of the hydrogen sulfide suicides, the media did not follow the guideline.
The now defunct Mutoushou Pharmaceutical had struggled with sales ever since the Japan Chain Drug Store Association urged participating stores to refrain from selling the product used as a suicide tool in the store this April. Amazon.com also stopped selling the product soon after. It was simply a matter of time before they were forced to shut down. Many fans of the controversial product, which is also known to be effective for treating skin disease, will find this problematic. Not only that, a silver accessory manufacturer who uses the product for processing oxidized silver has been quoted saying “this can really terminate our business. I would like to buy as many as there are in the stock.” The media and the Internet have brought the curtain down on a company that many Japanese people have a fond memory of.
Other posts by Japan Inc: