India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has finalised an amendment which will ban advertisements promoting fairness creams, health drinks claiming improvement to the height of children and products promoting anti-ageing remedies – with potential jail time for offenders.

The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was released on 3 February, a move reportedly to keep up with the changing times and technology

The current Act says that medicines, ‘magic remedies’ and products to cure any of 54 diseases, disorders and named conditions should not be advertised. The amendment has increased the number of diseases, conditions and disorders to a total of 78.

The new additions include ads for drugs or treatment for fairness of skin, premature ageing, AIDS, improvement of memory, improvement of the height of kids/adults, improvement of the size of sexual organs, duration of sexual performance, among others.

Under section seven of the Act, the first conviction is punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine or both; and a subsequent conviction can result in imprisonment of up to a year or a fine, or both.

The amendment proposes to increase the penalties. For the first conviction, the proposed punishment is imprisonment of up to two years and fine up to Rs 10 lakh (US$14,000). For subsequent conviction, the imprisonment may extend to five years with a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh (US$70,000).

The definition of what constitutes an ad has been expanded as well. Under the amendment, an ‘ad’ will include any audio or visual publicity, electronic media, “internet or website and includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper, invoice, banner, poster or such other documents: Provided that label or wrapper is an advertisement only if it contains any information or claim other than provided in the rules”.

The country has a long-standing obsession with fair skin. According to a Markets and Research report, the fairness cream category in India is anticipated to achieve market revenues of more than Rs. 5,000 crore (US$50 billion) by 2023.

With societal attitudes slowly changing, this move by the government introduces a stiffer legal punishment for promoting the fairness ideal.

It also marks another significant step since 2014, when the Advertising Standards Council of India, a self-regulated advertiser group, issued a set of guidelines to ensure that ads do not discriminate against darker-skinned people when it comes to dating, finding a spouse, securing a job or getting a promotion.

Sourced from Economic Times, The News Minute, Straits Times