Celebrities could be sued for endorsing products in misleading advertisements

Central Consumer Protection Council panel to consider proposal

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Wednesday 05 February 2014

If the food supplement that you buy does not fulfill its promise of making you taller, then you can sue not just the manufacturer, but all the stakeholders, including the actors and the channel endorsing it. This is one of the proposals expected to be discussed next Monday by a sub-committee of the Central Consumer Protection Council (CCPC) on regulation of advertisements. The sub-committee was formed on February 3 at the 28th annual meeting of CCPC.
"The sub-committee has been formed to see how to regulate false statements made in the advertisements in the name of scientific claims. Maximum false claims are made in health-related fields. Worse, they are aimed at children," said Ashim Sanyal, member CCPC and secretary, Voluntary Organisation in Interest of Consumer Education. The main proposal to be discussed is to hold everyone engaged in the production of advertisement responsible for its contents. This will include the manufacturer, advertising agency, artists, actors and the media platform, be it print or electronic.

An online petition launched by a Chennai activist has demanded that Shah Rukh Khan must stop endorsing Emami’s fairness cream meant for men. Till now, the online petition has received support from 25,000 peopleRegulation of false claims in advertisements has been bothering consumer rights activists and government authorities for long. In November 2012, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued notices to 38 top selling brands, asking them to withdraw their "misleading" advertisements. The brands included Complan, which claimed that one can grow two times by using the product and Kellogg’s which claimed that "research shows that people who eat low fat breakfast like Kellogg's Special K, tend to be slimmer than those who don't". Horlicks was pulled up as well, which claimed children consuming the product were "taller, stronger and sharper".

Other main set of products that will be impacted is cosmetics. Most of these products are endorsed by celebrities and they are likely to feel the heat. Recently, actor Amitabh Bachchan created a furore when in a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad he said that he stopped endorsing Pepsi after a little girl asked him why he promotes something that her teacher calls poison. The difference is now the celebrities will have to check contents of the product before endorsing it, not after eight years of association.

Push came from Madhya Pradesh High Court

The immediate push for regulation has come from the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The court asked the consumer affairs ministry to set up an ad-monitoring panel as recommended by the Vibha Bhargava Commission. The commission had submitted its report in 2005 and it underlined the urgent need to regulate false claims by advertisers of different products.

"We already have National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economical Responsibilities of Business. These are strict enough to regulate advertisements. These should be made mandatory and converted into a legal provision," said Sanyal. He added that another provision can be of apology. "The stakeholders in the advertisement can issue an apology in the form of advertisement of same length," he said.


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