a product is sold in a clear glass bottle – tomato sauce, for example – you can see at a glance whether you’re being short-changed by the contents in terms of quantity.
But when it comes to aerosol products, or gas cylinders, it’s hard for consumers to tell if they’re being ripped off, and so, naturally, the suppliers can take advantage of this – and the dodgy ones do.
The rip-offs are apparently so widespread that the Aerosol Manufacturers and the SA Paint Manufacturing associations have seen fit to issue a joint statement warning consumers about this.
“Most of the suspect products are imported, but some emanate from unscrupulous local sources,” they said. “This situation is not only in-tolerable and abusive for consumers who are blatantly being cheated, but also alarming for reputable local producers and their workers whose livelihood is threatened by such malpractices by competitors.”
But a Cape Town reader has alerted me to a form of aerosol underperformance that is far more serious – potentially lethal, in fact.
Craig Irving, a cyclist who was mugged on a mountain ride, carries pepper spray, as do his wife and three daughters. He recently decided to test one of the pepper sprays, with alarming results. It was a 25g product, bought from Remote Guru in Cavendish Square, Claremont, with an expiry date of 2015.
“This is the size I presume runners and walkers would use,” he said. “I pointed and sprayed and nothing came out of the nozzle – not a single drop. Had I used the spray in a self-defence situation, it would no doubt have provoked the attacker, rather than repelled him. The sales guy had promised 30 one-second bursts.”
Alarmed, he tested another of his pepper sprays of the same brand – a bigger, 40g can of direct-stream spray, the claim being it could spray across a distance of 9m for a few minutes.
“I got a piddle of a spray – not even 2m – for 20 seconds, making the claim on the can grossly misleading.” The 60g can sprayed a distance of 3m.
Irving took the products back to Remote Guru, reported what had happened and demanded a refund, which he was given.
“But what about all the people who never think to test these products, relying on them to work when they need them to?” he asked.
Irving said that when he confronted the product’s supplier he maintained that the products’ claims were accurate, and offered to collect the cans from the retailer and have them tested to find out why they “were failing”.
I tried to get a response from that pepper spray supplier last week, without success, which is why I am not naming the brand – for now.
Graham Vivian, owner of the Remote Guru stores in Cavendish and Tyger Valley, told Consumer Watch that he sold hundreds of pepper spray products and Irving’s complaint was the only complaint he had received.
“Obviously there will be some that fail, which is why I’ve trained my salespeople to advise customers to test their sprays every six months,” he said.
I raised the issue with Nick Tselentis of the Aerosol Manufacturers Association, who referred me to a Joburg-based industrial wholesaler/ manufacturer of pepper sprays, who has 12 years’ experience in the business. That man – who asked not to be named – sells to industrial security wholesale distributors, which in turn sell the products to security companies and what he termed “high-end consumers”.
He said Irving was “right on the money”.
“When it comes to pepper sprays, it’s all about price and profit. A problem in the industry is that very few suppliers of pepper sprays are the manufacturers; most wholesalers are guided by price and very few wholesalers test the products. It’s an easy emotional sale,” he said.
Pepper is like any weapon, he said – consumers need to make sure they know what they have bought and make even more sure they know how to use it.
“We sell the best capsicum – the active ingredient in pepper sprays – in the world from the most reputable supplier, at maximum concentrations for maximum effect,” the man said.
But capsicum could be sourced from all over the world, he said, and quality varied hugely.
“We make available videos of our pepper system in operation, along with many verbal testimonials.”
Consumers were mostly ignorant about pepper sprays, he said.
“The stupid little pepper sprays on a key ring are useless – can you imagine an attacker allowing someone the time to disconnect one of those from a keyring and use it on them?”
His advice to consumers: “Make sure you have your spray of choice available when you may need it, make sure it’s functional, be ready to use it without hesitation, and always get a new one after activation or after 12 months.
“Avoid imports and make sure the contents are listed on the product and the supplier can offer a technical data sheet [TDS] or material safety data sheet [MSDS] with the products, as required by law.
“Before you buy a product, ask for testimonials and access to a video of the product in action.”
And for the “very brave”, he recommended testing the product on themselves.