Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)
Health-Related Decisions and Recommendations
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a voluntary, self-regulatory organization for India's advertising industry. The council and its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) evaluate complaints from consumers and industry which assert that advertisements are false, misleading, indecent, illegal, leading to unsafe practices, and/or or unfair to competition, and therefore violate the ASCI Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. The code, which applies to advertising agencies as well as the media, includes these aims:
- To ensure the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made by advertisements and to safeguard against misleading advertisements.
- To ensure that advertisements are not offensive to generally accepted standards of public decency.
- To safeguard against the indiscriminate use of advertising for the promotion of products which are regarded as hazardous to society or to individuals to a degree or of a type which is unacceptable to society at large.
- To ensure that advertisements observe fairness in competition so that the consumer's need to be informed on choices in the market-place and the canons of generally accepted competitive behavior in business are both served.
In May 2014, the ASCI announced that its average complaint-processing time was 12 days, down from 45 days in 2012, even though the rate of complaints had increased more than ten-fold. The announcement also mentioned that the council's National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS) had begun tracking the ads against which complaints have been upheld and found that more than 90% of them did not reappear or were appropriately modified. The council also began reporting persistent non-compliant ads to regulatory authorities such as the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), the Medical Council of India (MCI), the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). In 2017, the ASCI began collaborating with the Ministry of AYUSH, which oversees ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha, homeopathy, and SOWA-RIGPA (Tibetan medicine). In March 2019, the ASCI announced:
ASCI and Ministry of AYUSH have concluded their second year of collaboration. . . . Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), ASCI was given a mandate for comprehensive Suo Motu surveillance of potentially misleading advertisements in the AYUSH sector and to keep a tab on print and electronic advertisements related to treatments with Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy medicines and potential violations of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954. Over the two years, under the MoU with Ministry of AYUSH, ASCI has looked into over 1200 advertisements of the AYUSH sector. It is important to take cognizance of the growing influence of Digital Media on consumers and the misleading advertisements through various web-sites exploiting consumers' lack of knowledge. As per our data, while there has been a significant decrease in the incidence of misleading advertisements as awareness of the AYUSH-ASCI collaboration is increasing, the joint efforts need to be sustained to effectively curb objectionable advertisements.
Summaries of the complaints the ASCI has upheld are now issued in monthly press releases posted to the ASCI Web site. So far, more than 2,000 complaints have been upheld in the areas of health, health care, nutrition, cosmetics, alleged sex aids, and supernatural claims. To make these easier to find, I have created monthly pages for 2012 through May 2017 and will gradually harvest the more recent ones. More than 100 claims involve homeopathy.
Additional details about the complaints may be found by searching the site for the advertiser's name.
How to Complain
- Residents of India should use the online complaint form. This form requires an address and mobile phone number, so it cannot be used by non-residents.
- Non-residents should send the other information requested in the online form to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Complaint apps for mobile phones can be obtained from Google Play and the App Store.
This article was revised on July 12, 2019.