Beware of misleading ads

Keep your eyes and ears open and know the legal recourse available in such cases

Tall claims in advertisements (ads), be it in print or electronic media, are not new. Creams that result in fairer skin, oils and shampoos that prevent hair fall, drinks that increase height, foods that reduce weight, financial products that provide high returns or educational institutions that assure recognition and 100 per cent placement are aplenty. But do these products or services really live up to their word? With ads going a long way in influencing what we choose, it is essential that we keep our eyes and ears open to misleading claims and know the legal recourse available in such cases.

Regulated by laws

There are several laws such as the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, Cable Television Network Act, Food Safety and Standards Act, and Infant Food Act, which individually regulate advertising in their respective spheres. For instance, the Food Safety Act imposes a penalty of up to ₹10 lakh for issues such as falsely representing the quality/quantity or grade/composition of the food product or giving guarantee to the public on the efficacy of the product without adequate scientific backing. Regulators for service sectors such as insurance (IRDAI), telecom (TRAI), financial products (SEBI/RBI), and health (Medical Council of India) regulate advertising in their domains as well.

This apart, ads are also bound by the guidelines laid down by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory organisation for the advertising industry. According to ASCI, advertisements should present an honest representation of facts, should be non-offensive to public, should not be used for promotion of products that are harmful to society /individuals/children and should not be derogatory to competition.

Besides, ASCI also provides guidelines for advertising in certain sectors. For example, any advertisement for a product in the auto industry should depict safe driving practices such as wearing a helmet, fastening of seat belts, not talking on a mobile phone when driving, etc. Similarly, ASCI advises caution when advertising food and beverages which contain high levels of fat, sugar and salt.

Remember the speed with which disclaimers are uttered in many TV or radio ads in a way that no one really gets it? Or their appearance in the smallest possible font in print ads, making it a difficult read? ASCI has prescribed dos and don’ts for such disclaimers too.

Where to complain

Thus, the legal framework provides you plenty of safeguards . So, in case you find that a product or service doesn’t match up to what the ad claimed, you can hit https://gama.gov.in/Default.aspx. The is the portal of the Department of Consumer Affairs for registering online complaints for grievance against misleading advertisements.

By setting up a login id and password, consumers can file complaints in this portal, giving a detailed description of the misleading ad and attach any documentary or video evidence to substantiate their grievance. ASCI also provides a facility for registering and tracking complaints online at https://www.ascionline.org/ index.php/lodge-ur-complaints. html.

You can approach ASCI through Whatsapp + 91 7710012345, contact@ascionline.org or toll free number 1-800-22-2724. It is noteworthy that ASCI also takes suo moto action against misleading ads. Help is available at the consumer dispute redressal forums set up at the national, state and district levels if these means fail to resolve your grievance.

Stricter laws

The noose is tightening on those that make false claims. With a view to deterring celebrities from endorsing misleading claims, the Consumer Protection Bill 2018, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha earlier this year, imposes a penalty on the endorser of the misleading advertisement. The Bill also empowers the new regulatory authority that will be set up — the Consumer Protection Authority — to impose a penalty of imprisonment of up to two years and fine of up to ₹10 lakh for false or misleading advertisements.

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