India is set to become the first country to introduce anti-tobacco warnings over tobacco imagery shown on any over-the-top (OTT) streaming content under guidelines notified by the Union health ministry on Wednesday.
The guidelines, set to come into force three months from May 31, will require publishers of online curated content showing tobacco products or their use to display prominent static health warnings during and audio-visual disclaimers before and after the programmes.
The notification that expands to OTT services anti-tobacco rules India had introduced in 2012 to television and cinema screens comes amid concerns among health experts that tobacco use depicted in OTT movies and serials threatens to reverse gains made since 2012.
The guidelines specify that static anti-tobacco health warning messages must be “legible and readable” with black fonts against a white background and must include the warnings: “Tobaccocauses cancer”, or “Tobacco kills”.
The warnings should include anti-tobacco health spots, lasting at least 30 seconds each at the beginning and middle of the programme. Audio-visual disclaimers on the ill effects of tobacco, lasting at least 20 seconds each, must be shown at the start and the middle of the programme. The guidelines also specify that the health warnings, health spots and audio-visual disclaimers should be in the same language asused in the online curated content.
Union health minister Manukh Mandaviya, releasing the guidelines, said there was a need to enhance awareness among young people about the serious, debilitating and harmful effects of tobacco use. The OTT guidelines, he said, would go a long way in discouraging tobacco consumption.
The notification, released on World No-Tobacco Day, has drawn applause from public health experts and health activists who had urged the health ministry to introduce the anti-tobacco warnings on all OTT content.
Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for the World Health Organisation South-East Asia Region, congratulated India “on becoming the first country in the world to regulate anti-tobacco warnings on OTT platforms”.
Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, chief executive with the Voluntary Health Association of India, a network of non-government health organisations, said the notification “closes the regulatory gap in OTT by extending the rules for films and TV to OTT”.
The health ministry said failure to comply with the guidelines may result in action by an inter-ministerial panel which will identify the publisher, issue a notice seeking an explanation for the failure and demand modifications to the content.