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Ban on Chewing Tobacco in India

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Download This week the Indian state of Gujarat has banned selling and making gutkha – a commercially produced pre-packaged chewing tobacco.

Those caught 6 months in jail or a fine of nearly 20 thousand US dollars.

Chewing tobacco is very popular in India. One in every three men is addicted to gutkha and it’s the leading cause of 80 thousand new oral cancer cases in the country every year.

Ten other sates have already banned gutkha in recent weeks.

But as Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata, anti-tobacco activists are demanding a nation-wide ban.

Devender Singh is a school teacher who has turned himself into a citizen journalist.

He’s been campaigning for the last three years against chewing tobacco on TV channels.

In the advertisement he says “Please don’t chew gutkha, it’s dangerous for your health.”

He used to be a tobacco addict for years until his doctor found cancer in his vocal box.

“I am speaking with the help of an artificial device which is attached to my food-pipe. My original voice for which people knew me is no more with me today. I have suffered this big loss all because of using gutkha."

Gutkha is a pre-packaged mixture of tobacco, betel nut, lime and some other ingredients.

All of them are carcinogenic and addictive.

32-year old Basir Khan is an autorickshaw driver and has been chewing gutkha for five years.

“Smoke chokes me, I don’t like cigarette. I like chewing tobacco. But traditional chewing tobacco which is made of dry tobacco leaves is very strong. You also have to take trouble to prepare it for use. On the other hand, gutkha is milder. It’s sweet and smells nice. And it’s ready to use. So, like others I like gutkha.”

It’s not just adults who are addicted to gutkha, but also around five million Indian children under the age of 18.

And the number is growing fast, says Dr Srinath Reddy, President of Public Health Foundation in India.

"26% of people about the age of 15 years now consume oral tobacco. Women and children are being increasingly targeted. If you look at women, 18 per cent of the women consume oral tobacco as compared to 2 per cent smoking. If you look at children again, the fastest growing consumption of tobacco is oral tobacco."

It’s easy to find gutkha across the country. And it costs only less than five US cents per package.

But 20-year old rickshaw puller Saddam Hossain wishes he had never tried gutkha.

He now has oral cancer and it hurts to speak.

“From the age of 7 or 8, I started taking gutkha. It tasted good. It’s easily available. Whenever I got money I would buy gutkha. Few years ago I noticed sores and unusual hardness inside my mouth. I went to doctor. The doctor sent me to a special hospital. The doctors said to me some weeks ago that my condition is irreversible and the treatment would cost quite much. I have no money to go for the treatment. I made a big mistake by taking gutkha.”

Tobacco annually kills one million Indians. And gutkha alone leads to 80 thousand of oral cancer cases every year –  the highest in the world.

With alarmingly high rate of cancer, last April Madhya Pradesh state government banned the production, storage, sell and consumption of gutkha.

Ten other sates have already banned gutkha in recent weeks.

Anti-gutkha campaigner Dr Sekharesh Ghoshal says, a country-wide ban is the only way to stop people from using gutkha.

“There is no doubt that gutkha has increased incidences of cancer in the country. There’s another point. Gutka users spit just everywhere - on the road, in offices, marketplaces, trains. It spreads many infectious diseases. Because of the stains from spitting many public places look ugly. We welcome the ban, because we see no other way to curb this fatal addiction among people. However, banning of gutkha only in some states would not help unless the entire country bans it.”

No state has yet outlined penalties for people who chew gutkha.

They are focusing on those that make, store or sell the chewing tobacco - with those caught facing six months in jail or a fine of nearly 20 thousand US dollars.

But despite the ban people are still about to buy gutkha smuggled in from other states.

Rani Haldar’s sons are still chewing gutkha.

“All of my three sons take gutkha. They have very easy access to the addiction because shops are selling gutkha everywhere. It’s bad for their health. But they are not listening to my warnings. We really need a ban on gutkha in our state. Otherwise I shall not be able to force my children away from this dangerous addiction.”
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 September 2012 19:33 )  

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