India: HRIDAY Research Exposes Netflix and Big Tobacco

HRIDAY research exposes an alliance between Netflix and other streaming services and Big Tobacco in India.

A recent study conducted by HRIDAY has found that online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime often violate Indian tobacco marketing regulations on movies and TV shows that they stream.

HRIDAY is a not-for-profit organisation and a Movendi International member organization from New Delhi, India.

The study was conducted by HRIDAY in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), funded by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published in the journal Tobacco Control.

India is a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). Article 13 of the WHO FCTC underlines rules for prevention of promotion and advertisement of tobacco products across all mediums. There exists evidence that on-screen tobacco use influences adolescents to use tobacco. India also has its national regulation in the form of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA). Section 5 of the COTPA prohibits all forms of advertising and promotion of tobacco products, and an amendment in 2012 to the (COTPA) act known as the ‘film rules’ made it mandatory for displaying health disclaimers in movies and television shows.

However, online streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime often do not adhere to national regulations for tobacco marketing. Therefore, these platforms are a prime target of Big Tobacco to hook young consumers to their products. In India, adults, aged 18-24 years, are estimated to spend close to 39 minutes per day on average on these platforms. About 60% of them view shows on these platforms for about five hours weekly, equivalent to two movie screenings.

Experts say the existing research evidence showing that tobacco imagery in films influences young people can be applicable to streaming platforms as well.

There is no reason to expect that the dire effects of exposure to tobacco imagery in streaming shows should be any different than the effects of tobacco imagery in films,” said Dr Stanton A Glantz, Professor of Medicine & Director, Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, as per Research Matters.

The study

In the study by HRIDAY, the researchers conducted focus group discussions with 33 students, between 15 to 24 years, from two schools and a colleges in New Delhi, India. They selected the 10 most popular shows in India to analyse through these discussions.

The analysis was done using the Breathe California approach, which counts the number of tobacco depicting scenes, including scenes where the product is seen, or used by lead or supporting actors or even in the background. The researchers also listed out scenes with tobacco brand depictions and compliance with the tobacco imagery rules.

The key findings of the study are as follows:

  • Three out of the ten selected series had more than 25 incidents of tobacco depiction or use per hour of screen time.
  • The show The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel had more than 100 such scenes per hour, or close to two scenes in a minute.
  • Seven of the analysed shows had at least one tobacco incident per hour.
  • Indian-produced series, like Mirzapur and Sacred Games, had relatively lower tobacco depicting scenes compared to the foreign-produced ones. However, there was no significant difference in the median number of tobacco incidents in foreign or Indian produced online series, although the analysis had only these two Indian shows.
  • Four of the ten shows had incidences portraying tobacco brands during the scenes.
  • There were no static anti-tobacco warning messages, no audio-visual disclaimers shown before the episodes and neither any anti-tobacco health spots displayed for up to 30 seconds – all these amounting to the violation of Section 5 of COTPA.

The research shows that the Indian government’s regulation of digital content is lacking.

There is a lack of a governing or certifying body or even a law to regulate the content shown in online platforms,” said Dr Monika Arora, corresponding author of the study, the Executive Director at HRIDAY and Professor at Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), as per Research Matters.

In 2019, online platforms like Netflix, Hotstar, and others signed a voluntary self-regulatory code to prevent the violation of such regulations in their content. The Digital Content Complaints Council was also set up for addressing consumer complaints. The researchers are skeptical that such self-regulation can work considering they align with company policies and not public health. The researchers call for better enforcement of existing rules and updating Article 13 of the WHO-FCTC guidelines.

This study highlights the urgent need to initiate a dialogue with digital content providers to ensure strict compliance with domestic laws and help protect vulnerable age groups like adolescents and young adults from the influence of exposure to tobacco imagery in entertainment content showcased on these platforms,” said Dr. Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India.

For further reading:

DW: “As smoking on Netflix rises, fears of normalization grow,” on August 26, 2019

Truth Initiative report: “While you were streaming: Smoking on demand,” on July 02, 2019

Source Website: Research Matters