Gutka banned

In Maharashtra; national ban in the offing

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Monday 28 February 2005

the Rs 2,000 crore gutka (chewing tobacco) industry in Maharashtra received a big blow on February 1, 2005. The state Food and Drug Administration (fda) banned the product, which contains Magnesium Carbonate (mgco 3), and revoked the sales, manufacture and distribution licenses of its manufacturers. The significance of the move increases because the Union ministry of health and family welfare (mohfw) is also considering imposing a national ban on gutka . "Maharashtra's fda commissioner A Ramakrishnan brought to my notice the seriousness of the issue. I am waiting for a few formalities to be completed before taking the final step," mohfw secretary Prassana Hota was reported as saying.

" Gutka remains in the mouth for long and the chemicals in it damage the fibrous tissue, leading to cancer," says Ramakrishnan. Apart from m g co 3, it contains other carcinogenic substances too. fda 's tests reveal that gutka contains almost three to five per cent m g co 3.

Maharashtra first banned gutka in 2002. But the Supreme Court lifted the ban in August 2004. In November 2004, the fda issued a fresh circular to gutka manufacturers, asking them to furnish information about the percentage of mgco3 and all other ingredients in their products by January 1, 2005. They failed to do so; hence the fda's latest action.

But g utka makers oppose the ban. "The amount of mgco 3 in our gutka is very little. Besides, medicines also contain mgco3," says spokesperson of Star gutka, a common brand. Experts say mgco3 in medicines is harmless because they are not kept in the mouth for long. The Central Committee for Food Standards, an expert body, had recommended a national ban on gutka in 1997 but nothing was done about it.

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