New Delhi: Video streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ Hotstar may soon have to carry explicit health warnings while showing scenes depicting tobacco consumption, ThePrint has learnt.
According to sources in the central government, the health ministry is drafting guidelines that would mandate these platforms to carry warnings — just like films screened in cinema halls do — since depicting tobacco consumption without any warning of its health hazards amounts to promotion.
“Films being shown in traditional cinema halls are already covered by the law of the land, but with over-the-top (OTT) platforms, there is no regulation,” said a senior government official, who did not wish to be named.
“So, it is an obvious gap area that needs to be plugged. There is ample research to show that excessive watching of substance abuse can lead to its consumption as well.”
Reached for comment, the health ministry confirmed to ThePrint that such guidelines or regulations could be in the offing.
“Though there is no advertising of tobacco on the OTT platforms… depiction of tobacco scenes without warning has been noticed. We are working on the requisite provisions,” ministry spokesperson Manisha Verma said in an emailed reply.
India has over 27 crore tobacco users, and is its second highest producer and consumer in the world. Tobacco is responsible for over 3,500 deaths each day, and 1.28 lakh annually. The government and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also noted in their advisories that tobacco use is a risk factor for certain noncommunicable diseases, which render patients of Covid-19 more vulnerable to developing severe disease.
Sources said the government could also set up a ‘Tobacco Control Authority’ to regulate the depiction of tobacco consumption, among other things.
Smoking scenes in popular series
According to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2012, any film or TV serial depicting tobacco products or their consumption in any form has to justify the need to do so to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
If the CBFC approves the display, the makers of the film or the series are required to carry anti-tobacco health warnings in the form of audio-visual disclaimers and static messages.
A study led by Hriday, a not-for-profit health awareness organisation based in Delhi, and published earlier this year in BMJ journal, suggested that seven of 10 series (on Netflix and Amazon Prime) considered popular among adolescents and young adults had tobacco imagery and none were compliant with COTPA regulations.
The study noted that OTT platforms are “a big challenge for all countries, where new media and streaming services are increasingly accessible and not too expensive”.
Sources said the health ministry wrote to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) earlier this year to flag this issue and the need for regulation.