OTT shows told to put anti-tobacco warning; makers ask for data to prove the impact
Now, OTT platforms will be required to attach anti-tobacco health warnings just like films, and we talk to some industry experts on their reaction to the new rule
According to a new advisory by the Union Health Ministry, it has been made mandatory for all streaming platforms to display anti-tobacco warnings as seen in movies shown in theatres and on the small screen. The new rule is eliciting mixed response from within the industry, with many also wondering if there is any data to prove if such a disclaimer has helped people kick the habit in the past.
From Aarya to Mirzapur to The Family Man, there are many shows in the web world which come with such scenes, and now, government is ready to tighten the noose over the portrayal.
On World No Tobacco Day (May 31), the Union health ministry notified the amended rules under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2004, making India the first country to regulate anti-tobacco warnings on OTT platforms. At an event, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya shared that new OTT guidelines will go a long way to dissuade tobacco consumption. Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, World Health Organisation South-East Asia Region, lauded the move, saying, “The move demonstrates India’s unstinted commitment to protect the health of people from the harmful effects of tobacco.”
ACTORS ARE ALL GUNG-HO ABOUT THE NEW RULE
According to Abhilash Thapliyal, such reminders are very important. “They don’t hamper the creative process or the depiction of the character. I lost my father to cancer because he was a chain smoker, so I am in complete support of these small reminders,” says the Aspirants and Blurr actor.
Echoing similar views, Breathe: Into the Shadows actor Amit Sadh commends the decision. “This brings consistency in messaging across different media platforms, as we already see such warnings in theatres and on television. Also, raising awareness about the detrimental effects of tobacco consumption is crucial, and implementing these warnings on OTT platforms ensures that viewers, especially the younger audience, receive consistent messages about the harmful consequences of tobacco use.”
Divyenndu, who has gained popularity as Munna bhaiya from Mirzapur, also calls it a good initiative. “Although I personally find it a little disturbing when the warning comes during the scene, as it breaks the flow of the story, in my view it should come in the beginning,” says the actor, who had scenes where he was smoking in the web show.
For actor Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo actor Isha Talwar, it is “important to have this guideline because smoking unfortunately over the years has become synonymous with heroism”. She explains, “It’s one thing to show something on camera but it’s a different thing to glorify it. I think if we had been wise about our intent of why we use alcohol / cigarettes / drugs on camera we would not have reached this place today but it is the need of the hour.”
MAKERS INSIST, SHOW US THE DATA, FIRST
Several filmmakers have questioned the move, by asking the impact the existing disclaims have had.
Sacred Gamed and Jubilee director Vikramaditya Motwane says, “They (government) has done it in the movies, now I don’t know if they felt it made a difference in people’s smoking habit. We need to understand the data, and ask if the habit is curbed after they put the disclaimer in films? It has been happening for almost ten years now. We need to check if it really made a difference, and brought the numbers down. I don’t understand why it is that we are the only industry which becomes the easy target to do these things.’
Taish and The Fame Game director, Bejoy Nambiar is unable to understand whether it was required to do a follow up on the OTT after theatres. “Now, since the audience is moving towards the OTT world, the government is feeling the need to do that. But I am not sure if we need it right now”. He also questions the existence of data to prove the importance of putting this disclaimer,” he notes.
Undekhi director Ashish R. Shukla is wondering how it will be implemented, and what’s the way ahead. He explains, “There is so much content. If they are planning to put the disclaimer on the new shows, what about the previous shows? And what about youtube then? It is the most watched compared to OTT. I understand that we should not glorify smoking. I have been a smoker, but at the same time, I don’t think writing ‘smoking is injurious to health’ helps anybody.”
In fact, Shukla is worried that it might dissuade a lot of international makers from releasing their shows in India. “There have been instances where we have made a fool of ourselves when international makers refused to release their films in India because of this disclaimer. They don’t want their original product to be contaminated. I don’t think international makers will be okay to put this disclaimer. It will only create a hassle,” he asserts.
WHAT ARE THE RULES
As per the directive, which will take effect in three months, for content that displays tobacco products or their use, streaming platforms will be required to:
- Attach anti-tobacco health spots, lasting a minimum of thirty seconds each at the beginning and middle of the programme
- Exhibit an anti-tobacco health warning as a prominent static message at the bottom of the screen when tobacco products or their use are displayed during the programme.
- Carry the health warning message — Tobacco causes cancer or Tobacco kills — should be legible and readable
- Not include the brands of cigarettes or other tobacco products in their content and promotional materials
According to Delhi-based pulmonologist Piyush Goel, these things might seem as a formality, but they do help curb the pandemic of smoking. “We have to show the dangers of smoking to the people on the OTT platforms today. Many series showcase smoking or use of tobacco on a rampant basis. Disclaimer is a good thing to have, but you won’t anybody who will say that they quit smoking after watching the warning. We need the warnings to remind people that smoking causes cancer. But it can’t just be the thing. We need to do more,” he asserts.