OTT platforms are in gross violation of tobacco disclaimer guidelines, say health experts

Written by Ralph Alex Arakal
| Bengaluru |

September 10, 2020 5:06:38 pm

The study assessed tobacco depictions in ten television series available on OTT platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, and others.

As over-the-top (OTT) platforms attain more popularity with cinema theatres remaining shut due to Covid-19 pandemic, public health experts have raised an alarm over the absence of audio-visual disclaimers for tobacco imagery used in films, web series, and other content aired online.

Urging the central government to act against tobacco advertising and glamorisation of tobacco use, experts have written to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology citing results of a recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Dr Muralidhar M Kulkarni, Associate Professor at Department of Community Medicine, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, said that such imagery amounts to violations of section 5 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003. “The study titled ‘Tobacco imagery in on-demand streaming content popular among adolescents and young adults in India: Implications for global tobacco control’ has revealed rampant depiction of tobacco use and tobacco brand placement even in content 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 audiovisual disclaimers about the ill effects of tobacco use,” he alleged.

The study assessed tobacco depictions in ten television series available on OTT platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, and others. “Even as the study is limited to ten television series, it provides conclusive evidence that streaming services disregard India’s high standards for restricting and containing tobacco depictions in the media,” Muralidhar said.

Meanwhile, the National Cancer Registry Programme Report, 2020, released recently by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Centre for Disease Informatics and Research (NCDIR) in Bengaluru, cancer cases in the country are expected to be at 13.9 lakh and is likely to go up to 15.7 lakhs by 2025. In 2020, tobacco-related cancers are estimated to contribute 3.7 lakhs (27.1 per cent) to the total cancer cases in the country.

Linking this to the India Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) — conducted among students in classes 8 to 10 — Dr Prathima Murthy, professor at the Department of Psychiatry in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) said online streaming platforms have become a haven for promotion of tobacco use.

Adding that a whopping 14.6 per cent of students aged 13-15 in India use tobacco as indicated in GYTS, she said, “We urge union government to take necessary action to ensure these OTT platforms comply with COTPA and other applicable laws in order to protect children from exposure to tobacco products.”

Recently, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Hotstar, and 12 other online video-streaming platforms and curated content providers signed a self-regulation code, allowing consumers to report policy violations on their content.

The latest Universal Self-Regulation Code released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) a week back includes a framework for age-classification and content descriptions and parental controls in combination with a grievance-redressal system.

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