India imposes stricter regulations on streaming platforms with mandatory anti-tobacco warnings

India’s Health Ministry has stepped onto the virtual set with a captivating announcement. In a bid to curb the influence of smoking and tobacco use, the ministry has unveiled stringent guidelines for video streaming / OTT platforms. With this development, mandatory warnings are set to pop up during smoking scenes, adding a layer of awareness to the silver screen and setting a precedent for other countries grappling with similar public health concerns

The new Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Amendment Rules, 2023 are set to come into effect in three months, following which popular streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and others will be required to incorporate anti-tobacco warnings in their content.

More specifically, the guidelines require that anti-tobacco health spots, of at least half a minute in duration, are shown at the opening and midpoint of the programme. Furthermore, it requires that a health warning in the form of text at the lower end of the screen (as a static message) during scenes that show the consumption of tobacco be shown prominently.

And if this is not enough, platforms need to provide their audiences with an audio-visual disclaimer of at least 20 seconds, which focusses on the harmful impact of tobacco consumption, at the outset and halfway point of any programme. These guidelines sound familiar enough – given that cinephiles have already witnessed such warnings while watching films and TV programmes on TV or at cinema halls. Finally though, similar guidelines arrive to streaming platforms as well.

“The anti-tobacco health warning message shall be legible and readable, in black font on a white background,” according to the notification by the Health Ministry. Warnings such as “Tobacco causes cancer” or “Tobacco kills” must be presented in the same language as the content. It will be up to an inter-ministerial committee, comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, to ensure that streaming platforms adhere to the guidelines, and in issues of non-compliance, can issue notices to the offenders and task them to make the changes.

Understandably, the introduction of these stringent guidelines will have a profound impact on video streaming platforms operating in India. Not only does the development have significant implications for the streaming industry, public health awareness, and the portrayal of smoking in media, but streaming services will have to revise their content review and classification processes to ensure adherence to the strict regulations.

From the looks of it, by making smoking and tobacco use more visible and explicitly linking them to health risks through on-screen warnings, the regulations aim to raise awareness about the dangers associated with these activities. The presence of warnings during smoking scenes can potentially serve as a deterrent and encourage viewers to reconsider their own tobacco-related habits. Furthermore, these regulations contribute to ongoing efforts to reduce tobacco consumption and promote a healthier lifestyle among the population, something that would be welcome in India, which is one of the largest consumers of tobacco across the globe.

“India’s new regulations will ensure that streaming services are not the next vehicle for Big Tobacco’s aggressive targeting of Indian youth,” said Yolonda Richardson, an executive from non-profit group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

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