India "gutka" chewing tobacco habit a tough nut to crack 1

Gutka, a combination of arecanut, slaked lime, paraffin and katechu along with tobacco,is virtually poison. Promoted as a mouth freshener, this mixture is a combination of 4,000 chemicals of which at least 40 are carcinogenic compounds, say doctors.

People get addicted to it as gutka is reported to have stimulant and relaxation effects. While most consumers believe that the blend is not harmful, doctors, especially oncologists, say consumption of gutka is more harmful than any other form of tobacco.

This is because when a person chews gutka, the mixture directly enters the system through the oral cavity. In the case of smoking, 20 per cent of the harmful chemicals reach the lungs and 80 per cent is exhaled.

While health organizations across the world are struggling to curb smoking, India continue to face a big challenge of tackling the menace of smokeless tobacco. While India remains one of the largest consumers of smokeless tobacco such as Pan Masala, Gutkha and Khaini, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s main agenda in the upcoming Seventh Session of the Conference of Parties (COP7) to World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) would be to focus on the problem.

Asia’s third-largest economy battles almost 80,000 new cases of oral cancer yearly. The treatment of tobacco-related diseases cost more than $5 billion in 2002-2003, according to the most recent data available cited in a health ministry and WHO report.That compares to about $1.4 billion that the government earns in excise revenue from tobacco.

Maharashtra, Punjab and Kerala went a step further by banning all smokeless forms of tobacco, including “paan masala”, usually sold as a mouth freshener.

But it remains to be seen how well the bans are enforced.

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