Ads promoting fairness creams will end up with 5 years jail, Rs. 50 lakh fine : Health Ministry

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The Health Ministry has released the draft amendment to the Drugs and Magic Remedies Objectionable Advertisements), Act 1954, seeking to introduce a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh for advertisements for drugs, ‘magic remedies’ and other products promoting fair skin, enhancing sexual performance, increasing brain capacity and so on.

The bill amends the penalty for the advertisers or their enablers will for advertisements of promoting pharmaceutical products for fairness of skin, deafness, improvement of height, hair loss or greying, obesity among others.

The Act says that medicines, ‘magic remedies’ and products to cure any of the 54 diseases, disorders, conditions named 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 in height of kids/adults, improvement in size of sexual organ, duration of sexual performance and so on, among others.

The bill amends the said act by substituting section 7 of the act with the following:

"7: Penalty.— Whoever contravenes any of the provisions of this
Act [or the rules made thereunder] shall, on conviction, be
a) in the case of first conviction, with imprisonment which may
extend to two years and fine upto ten lakh rupees.
b) in the case of a subsequent conviction, with imprisonment
which may extend to five years and fine upto fifty lakh rupees."

This implies that first time offenders may be imprisoned for a period up to 2 years and imposed with a fine of up to 10 lakh INR and on their subsequent offence, they might be imprisoned for up to 5 years and imposed with a fine of up to 50 lakh INR.

The current law punishes the culprits in the first offence with imprisonment up to six months, with or without a fine, and up to one year for a second-time conviction.

The purpose for this amendment as stated in the notice by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is "in order to keep pace with changing time and technology." The ministry has also asked for the suggestions/comments/objections on the bill by the public/stakeholders and given a time of 45 days for the same.

The new bill gives its identification of advertisements by amending section 2, "advertisement" means any audio or visual publicity,
representation, endorsement or pronouncement made by means of
light, sound, smoke, gas, print, 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."

In the draft bill, the ministry has proposed to prohibit advertisements of medicines and products purported to cure "any" of the 78 diseases, disorders or conditions it has specified. In the existing act there were 54 such diseases whereas in the draft bill of ammendment "The Schedule" containing 78 such diseases purports to replace the the schedule in the existing act.

Advertisements and endorsers of fairness products have been performing the task of setting false and artificial standards among the masses. Among such brands had been Patanjali which portrays dark skin as a kind of medical ailment.

The idea of curbing false narratives of such products and their advertising is supposedly to be welcomed by those who have been voicing their disregard of the brands and fairness advertisements that consider skin tone as a gauge of beauty and success.

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