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The Economic Times

Exaggerated drug ads to bring fines, stringent charges

NEW DELHI: Companies that egregiously exaggerate how well their drugs work for improvement in size and shape of a sexual organ, form and structure of the breast, or fairness, could soon face huge fines and criminal charges, officials said.

To check deceptive advertising practices by pharmaceutical companies that put public health at risk by posting fake information about effectiveness and safety of medicines, the health ministry has set up a committee to recommend amendments to existing laws to initiate criminal procedures, including jail term for top managers, and massive financial penalties against such firms, they said.

“The existing penalties hardly deter people from making such tall claims,” a committee member said. At present advertisements that make tall claims get away with a paltry fine of Rs 500, the person said.

The committee, chaired by joint health secretary Mandeep Bhandari, met on December 13 with a mandate to expeditiously revisit the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.

It is contemplating strict penal actions for those advertising for ailments under Schedule J of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, which contains a list of diseases and ailments that a drug may not claim to prevent or cure. The list includes cancer, change of foetal sex, fairness of the skin, maintenance or improvement of the capacity of a human being for sexual pleasure, premature ejaculation, sexual impotence, premature greying of hair, form and structure of the breast, and power to rejuvenate.

“The penalties in the existing Act needs better clarification-...we have to make DMRA more effective by increasing the fine and imprisonment,” a second official said.

At present, penalties for false claims include “imprisonment which may extend to six months, fine, or both” in the case of the first conviction.

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In the case of a subsequent conviction, imprisonment “may extend to one year, or fine, or both”.

Also, while the existing Act prohibits misleading health claims in the print media, it has no provision to tackle advertisements that may appear on television or the internet. The committee is mandated to look into that aspect as well. “This is the era of social media and it needs to be harmonised, hence amendments to existing act are in the offing,” one of the sources said.

The health ministry, in its December 10 order notifying the committee, had said, “The committee will give its recommendations within three weeks of its first meeting.”

Members of the committee include Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), representatives from the ministries of Ayush, information and broadcasting, and law and justice, and drug controllers from various states including Haryana, Maharashtra, and Karnataka.
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