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Axe on ads for Ramdev’s Patanjali remedies

Authorities regulating traditional medicines have asked Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved to refrain from advertising five products that the company has promoted as treatments for blood pressure, diabetes, goitre, glaucoma and high lipid levels, flagging violations of drug laws.

The Uttarakhand Ayurveda and Unani services licensing authority has, responding to a complaint from a Kerala-based doctor, asked Divya Pharmacy, the maker of Patanjali products, to remove and refrain from issuing advertisements for its products named BPgrit, Madhugrit, Thyogrit, Eyegrit and Lipidom.

The licensing authority wrote to the company on September 7.

This is the second time in five months that regulatory authorities have acted on complaints that Patanjali’s advertisements violate the country’s drug laws, which prohibit advertisements promoting remedies for certain categories of health disorders.

K.V. Babu, an ophthalmologist in Kannur, had in July this year complained to the Union consumer affairs ministry and the Uttarakhand licensing authority that Divya’s advertisements violated the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954.

The Acts prohibit advertisements promoting prevention, treatment or cure of certain disorders, including blood pressure, diabetes, liver disorders, heart disease, glaucoma and goitre.

The Central Consumer Protection Authority, a unit of the consumer affairs ministry, too wrote to the Union ayush (ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha, homoeopathy) ministry on Thursday, forwarding Babu’s complaint for “necessary action”.

“It is observed that the matter relates to the health of the public” and violates “the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 and the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 and Rules 1945”, the Central Consumer Protection Authority wrote to the ministry.

An email query sent by this newspaper to Patanjali seeking its response to the letter from the Uttarakhand licensing authority has evoked no reply.

Babu said he had decided to complain because he and other doctors were concerned about the health implications of such advertisements on the public, who might get influenced by them and buy such remedies.

“I welcome the observations by both the Central Consumer Protection Authority and the Uttarakhand licensing authority,” Babu said on Thursday. “Let us see whether or how long the company refrains from releasing such advertisements.”

On May 7 this year, Divya had told the state licensing authority that it would stop releasing advertisements for certain products for heart and liver disorders amid an earlier complaint from Babu, made in February.

Babu had complained about an advertisement that had claimed that a Patanjali product called Lipidom reduces cholesterol “in a week” and protects people from “heart problems and blood pressure”. Babu had said the ad breached the 1940 and 1954 laws.

The ayush ministry too had sought withdrawal of advertisements of Patanjali’s products Lipidom, Livogrit and Livamrit that the company had described as “evidence-based medicines” for “benefit in problems related to fatty liver and liver cirrhosis”.

“The company had agreed to refrain from issuing such advertisements in May but released a fresh ad mentioning BPgrit, Eyegrit, Madhugrit, Thyrogrit and Lipidom in July,” Babu said. “But this time, the directions from the licensing authority are clear. This is a positive development.”

Chhaya Pachauli, a Jaipur-based member of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a nationwide network of physicians and patients’ rights advocates, said the Uttarakhand licensing authority’s letter to Divya directing removal of the advertisement “acknowledges” the validity of the complaint.

The ayush ministry had told Parliament earlier this year that the consumer affairs department had registered 1,416 misleading advertisements of ayush products and services between April 2014 and July 2021. And between 2017 and 2019, the Advertising Standards Council of India, an industry body, had reported 1,229 misleading advertisements of ayush products.

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