OTT platforms may soon be mandated to display anti-tobacco warnings and disclaimers as are seen in movies screened in theatres and in television programmes with the Health Ministry likely to amend the relevant rules, officials sources said on Thursday. The ministry is actively considering amending the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Rules, 2004, and a notification in this regard is likely to be issued soon, they said.
According to the draft notification, publishers of online curated content displaying tobacco products or their use will be required to display anti-tobacco health spots each of a minimum of 30 seconds at the beginning and middle of the programme, an official source told PTI. They shall also be required to exhibit an anti-tobacco health warning as a prominent static message at the bottom of the screen when tobacco products or their use are displayed during the programme.
Also, an audio-visual disclaimer of a minimum of 20 seconds on the ill effects of tobacco use should be displayed at the beginning and middle of the programme, the source stated.
"The anti-tobacco health warning message shall read as 'Tobacco causes cancer' or 'Tobacco kills'. Besides, the anti-tobacco health warning messages, health spots and audio-visual disclaimers will have to be in the same language as used in the online curated content." According to officials, the use of tobacco products and smoking are shown extensively in web series and movies streamed on OTT platforms and without any disclaimers in clear violation of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003.
"The OTT platforms, because of their huge popularity, play a crucial role in promoting tobacco use among children and youth in our country," an official said.
Ranjit Singh, an advocate in the Supreme Court said amendment to the rules will truly make India a world champion in regulating tobacco promotion through entertainment medium.
"The morbidity and mortality due to tobacco use are well established. The government enacted COTPA to discourage tobacco use by eliminating all direct and indirect advertisements of tobacco.
"The tobacco industry aims to get the youngsters hooked to tobacco... The ban on tobacco advertisements under COTPA led to a spurt of incidents of promotion of tobacco through entertainment medium," Singh said. Binoy Mathew, programme manager at the Voluntary Health Association of India, said that streaming services have gained immense popularity, especially during the Covid pandemic and among teens.
"Teens in school uniform smoking tobacco were being shown quite frequently. There were also scenes where tobacco control laws and their intent were ridiculed. The draft notification, once issued, will end brazen tobacco promotion on OTT platforms," Mathew said.
India will become a global leader in tobacco regulation by implementing the regulation on OTT. India can set an example to the world, he said.
According to the proposed amendments to the Rules, the display of tobacco products or their use in online curated content will not be extended to the display of brands of cigarettes or other tobacco products.
If the publishers fail to comply with the provisions an inter-ministerial committee consisting of representatives from the ministries of health, information and broadcasting and electronics and information technology shall issue notice to them giving reasonable opportunity to explain such failure and make appropriate modifications in the content, another source said.
"According to the daft notification, ‘online curated content' means any curated catalogue of audio-visual content, other than news and current affairs, which is owned by, licensed to or contracted to be transmitted by a publisher of online curated content and made available on demand over the internet or computer networks. "It includes films, audio-visual programmes, documentaries, television programmes, serials, series, podcasts, and other such content," the source added.
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