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Businesses could face probe for 'tie-in sales' of masks: Japan's antitrust watchdog

In this 2019 file photo, the sign for the Japan Fair Trade Commission and Public Prosecutors Office is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO -- The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has warned businesses engaging in "tie-in sales" of masks -- an arrangement where a buyer must purchase something else to buy masks -- that the antitrust watchdog would launch probes if necessary, after a major pharmacy was caught selling other products with masks as package deals.

Osaka-based pharmacy operator Kokumin Co., which runs Kokumin Drug stores across Japan, has admitted that some shops were selling masks packaged with other products. The firm released a comment on Feb. 19 that "sales tactics that could cause misunderstanding have been confirmed at some stores" and that the company notified them to halt such a marketing arrangement.

JFTC Secretary General Shuichi Sugahisa told a news conference on Feb. 26 that, while pointing out that he was speaking in general, it was "problematic if businesses are holding tie-in sales amid soaring demand (for masks) and consumers are forced to purchase (a second product). We will respond properly if we find a major business operator engaging in such a scheme."

A shortage of masks has become a serious issue following the viral outbreak, with some online users reselling them at high prices.

(Japanese original by Toru Watanabe, City News Department)

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