Those who violate ban may be fined up to Rs 5 lakh or imprisoned up to six years
After Madhya Pradesh, Kerala has now become the second state in India to ban all forms of chewing tobacco products.
The state has banned the manufacture, storage, distribution and sale of gutkha and pan masala, containing tobacco and nicotine, of all brands available in the market. The ban is effective from May 25.
Like Madhya Pradesh, Kerala government has also taken cue from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulation no 2.3.4 that prohibits the addition of tobacco or nicotine in food. The FSSAI regulation was issued on August 1, 2011.
“The state is seeing a situation where oral cancer cases have tripled over the years. Around 35 to 40 lakh people in Kerala are addicted to chewing tobacco and a large proportion of these addicts are children,” said Biju Prabhakar, commissioner of food safety in Kerala.
He added that the ban is long-term and those who do not follow will have to pay a fine up to Rs 5 lakh or face imprisonment up to six years.
In July 2011, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy had written to the prime minister seeking a country-wide ban on chewing tobacco. The Union health ministry replied to him in April informing that the states have the jurisdiction to ban chewing tobacco under the Food Safety and Standards Regulation Act, 2011. Kerala’s health department took immediate steps to implement the ban.
“The government would spare no efforts to enforce the ban on gutkha or pan masala and will take strong measures to maintain and improve the health of our people,” said Chandy at a conference.
According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India, the estimated number of tobacco users in India is 274.9 million of whom 25.9 per cent are users of smokeless tobacco. India has the highest prevalence of oral cancer in the world, with 75, 000 to 80, 000 new cases of such cancers being reported in a year.
“This step ( the ban) will go a long way in saving many lives and reducing government spending on treating tobacco-related diseases. Other states should also implement the FSSAI rule in the larger interest of the younger generation who is falling prey to this tobacco menace,” said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, executive director of non-profit Voluntary Health Association of India.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, number of people afflicted by oral cancer has been rising steadily in India—from 66,129 in 2008 to 68,160 in 2009. In 2010, 70,261 people were detected with oral cancers.
Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had informed Lok Sabha on March 11, 2011 that there are more than 3,000 chemical ingredients in chewing tobacco products. Out of these, 28 chemical ingredients are proven carcinogens.
Meanwhile, the tobacco manufacturers have termed the ban illegal. “The ban will be challenged in the High Court,” says Sanjay Bechan, executive director, Smokeless Tobacco Federation (India), an association of smokeless tobacco producing companies.