The ban is already successful in Madhya Pradesh and Kerala
Following the lead of Madhya Pradesh and Kerala, Bihar has now banned gutkha, chewing tobacco. The announcement to this effect was made on May 31, also celebrated as World No Tobacco Day.
Despite the gutkha producing companies terming the ban as illegal, several states are now abiding by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) rules and going ahead to restrict the sale, manufacture, storage and distribution of chewing tobacco products. FSSAI regulation 2.3.4 restricts the availability of any food substance in the market that has tobacco or nicotine as ingredients. Food commissioners of various states are categorising gutkha as a food product under the FSSAI definition of food and banning it.
“The states are just following the laws. It is legal to ban gutkha under the FSSAI. It could also be banned under the Prevention of Food Adulteration act. The provisions of the two Acts are the same,” says Ashwini Kumar Rai, food safety commissioner of Madhya Pradesh.
He adds that the ban has reduced gutkha trade in Madhya Pradesh by at least 60 to 70 per cent.
Although under the FSSAI rules the ban can only be for a year, the states are confident they will be able to extend it longer because the step has got a support from the public.
“People from all quarters are welcoming the ban in Kerala. In the past few years there has been a mushrooming of cancer hospitals in the state. The number of cancer cases are rising,” says Biju Prabhakar, food safety commissioner in Kerala. The state has given gutkha companies time till June 15 to withdraw all their products from the market.
The smokeless tobacco industry has moved the court in both the states.
Health activists say that the ban would especially protect young children getting addicted to such substances which have over 3,000 chemicals in them. Pankaj Chaturvedi, associate professor, head and neck division, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, rejects the concern that if gutkha is banned, people will switch over to cigarettes or bidis. “After the ban in Madhya Pradesh, a survey was conducted in the state that showed there has been no switch over to other tobacco products,” he says.
Urging all states to go ahead and impose a ban on chewing tobacco products, Rai rues that the crossborder trade of gutkha will flourish if only few states ban it. Chewing tobacco is also banned in Goa and Sikkim but under their own states’ public health laws.
As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 2010, more than 206 million people above the age of 15 use some form of chewing tobacco in the country.
“Cost of treatment of cancer patients is humungous. It brings loss to the economy and to the country along with the social and psychological distress to the family of the sufferers,” says Shakuntala Gamlin, joint secretary, Union health ministry. It is estimated that if cost of treatment of all cancer patients due to abuse of tobacco is to be borne, the turnout would be over Rs 35,000 crore each year, she adds.
Meanwhile, the ministry on May 31 released operational guidelines for national tobacco control programme to strengthen the implementation of Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act.
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