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Centre enforces new rules for influencers endorsing products, therapies

Aug 11, 2023 04:33 AM IST

The rules require clear disclaimers from celebrities and influencers when making health-related claims and impose fines for ‘false or misleading endorsements.’

NEW DELHI The Union government on Thursday enforced a new set of guidelines and rules for social media influencers and people who endorse products or therapies that target medical conditions so that they comply with the Consumer Protection Act, an official said.

Misleading advertisements, unsubstantiated claims and lack of transparency in health and wellness endorsements now attract penal provisions of the consumer protection law. Digital influencers are widely followed on social media platforms, such as Instagram. (File photo)

The new guidelines follow a set of norms invoked in March 2023 to ensure individuals do not “mislead their audiences when endorsing products or services and that they are in compliance with the Consumer Protection Act and any associated rules or guidelines”, consumer affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said.

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Misleading advertisements, unsubstantiated claims and lack of transparency in health and wellness endorsements now attract penal provisions of the consumer protection law. Digital influencers are widely followed on social media platforms, such as Instagram.

Influencers are part of a large industry that drives sales and marketing in the form of entertainment and they endorse products for which they sign marketing deals with companies. They shape shopping habits of mass followers of their social media accounts.

A key requirement of the new rules is that “celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers” presenting themselves as “health experts or medical practitioners, when sharing information, promoting products or services or making any health-related claims, must provide clear disclaimers, ensuring the audience understands that their endorsements should not be seen as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment”.

Such a disclosure or disclaimer is now mandatory when making claims on “health advantages” including those derived from “food items and nutraceuticals, disease prevention, treatment or cure, medical conditions and recovery methodologies”.

The new rules will cover vitamins and health supplements as well as so-called immunity boosters. Statutory disclaimers will have to be displayed while undertaking endorsements that make any kind of “health-related assertions”.

In cases of false or misleading endorsements, under section 21(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, the central consumer protection authority can impose fines on manufacturers and endorsers of up to 10 lakh, or 50 lakh in case of repeated violations, according to the rules.

In March 2023, the government published “Endorsements Know-hows” for celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers on social-media platforms. The new rules specifically apply to health care-related endorsements.

The rules will not apply to general health advice such as “drink water and stay hydrated” or “exercise regularly”, the official said. As part of a broader drive for transparency in digital endorsements, the Centre has also made it mandatory for influencers to disclose marketing deals.

“Companies particularly target marketing of skin care and beauty products from a health care approach. Some of these products can cause potential side effects,” said Arti Pillai, a consumer-advocacy expert who was a consultant to the government.

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