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Public Health Experts urge Union Government to act against Tobacco Advertising and glamorization of Tobacco use on OTT Platforms

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BANGALORE, SEPTEMBER 11, 2020: Public Health Experts have urged the union government to act against tobacco advertising and glamorization of tobacco use, in order to protect the children from exposure to tobacco products display on ‘Over the top media’ (OTT) platforms. Experts are expressing concern as OTT platforms are becoming increasingly popular in India, especially with young viewers.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) titled “Tobacco imagery in on-demand streaming content popular among adolescents and young adults in India: implications for global tobacco control” reveal that OTT platforms are flouting Government of India’s regulations on exposure to tobacco imagery.
The study assessed tobacco depictions in ten television series available on OTT platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Hotstar, Amazon Prime and others. Incidents of tobacco use and tobacco brands in each series (foreign and Indian) were counted, and compliance with Indian laws was recorded.
The study revealed that there is rampant depiction of tobacco use and tobacco brand placement and most were rated for viewers below 18 years, targeting youth and children. None of the series included anti-tobacco static warning messages, anti-tobacco health spots, or audio visual disclaimers about the ill effects of tobacco use violating union government’s regulations on exposure to tobacco imagery and also violating Section 5 of India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), said Dr Muralidhar M Kulkarni, Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Kasturba Medical College (KMC), Manipal.
The BMJ study is limited to ten television series but it provides conclusive evidence that the streaming services are completely disregarding India’s high standards for restricting and containing tobacco depictions in the media, said Dr Muralidhar.
Further in a survey conducted by KMC among 40,000 school going adolescents in Udupi district, the existing GOI’s rules on tobacco imagery prevents smoking uptake, he said.
According to sources, MoHFW has recently sent a letter to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology highlighting that the tobacco film rules are applicable on OTT platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar as well and strict action may kindly be taken for prohibiting the depiction of tobacco use through streaming media in connection with the extant provisions under COTPA, 2003.
As per the recent National Cancer Registry Programme Report 2020, released by The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research (NCDIR), Bengaluru, in 2020 cancer cases in the country will be at 13.9 lakh and it is likely to go up to 15.7 lakhs by 2025 based on current trends. In 2020, tobacco related cancers are estimated to contribute 3.7 lakhs (27.1 percent) of the total Cancer burden.

Public Health Expert and Professor – Department of Psychiatry at NIMHANS Dr Prathima Murthy, said “As per the GYTS data, 14.6% of 13–15 year old students in India use tobacco. As many as 11% of all male students surveyed were found to be users of smoking or smokeless tobacco, while 6% of female students used smokeless tobacco and 3.7% smoked tobacco. According to the MoHFW, nearly 37% children in India initiate smoking before the age of 10, and, each day, 5500 children begin tobacco use and consequently may become addicted. The streaming media has become a haven for promotion of tobacco use. We urge union government to take necessary action to ensure these OTT platforms are compliant with COTPA and other applicable laws in order to protect children from exposure to tobacco products”.
“It is well established that exposure to tobacco imagery in the media increases the likelihood of tobacco uptake in adolescents and young adults and that this relationship is causal” she added.
Another study conducted by World Health Organization and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India revealed that 76% of Indian movies had tobacco use shown in them and 52.2% of children in India who had their first smoke were influenced by tobacco use depicted in movies.

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