Gutkha was banned in Karnataka on 31st May 2013 coinciding with ‘World no tobacco day’. But chewing tobacco resurfaced in the market in the form of twin sachets in which one packet contained raw tobacco and the other contained flavours. The consumer was sold both the pouches together to enable him/her to mix the contents and consume. This aggressive marketing strategy by the tobacco industry became possible by exploiting the wordings/ legal loophole in the Notification issued by the Commissioner of Food Safety in October 2016. Under section 2.3.4 of the Food Safety and Regulation (Prohibition) Act 2011 “nicotine cannot be part of a food product”. Some states have already banned such new variants of ghutka (in twin pouches) by issuing orders banning “all forms of chewing tobacco products”.
Understanding this loophole the then Union Health Minister and Health Secretary had written between 2013 – 2014 to all the Chief Ministers and the Chief Secretaries to ban all forms of chewing tobacco. In Karnataka in fact on 6th November 2014 UT Khader the then Minister for Health and Family Welfare had in principle agreed to ban all forms of chewing tobacco products in Karnataka but the matter was referred to the cabinet and the same was kept on the back burner until the Supreme Court intervened and advised states to take action in this regard. Karnataka finally obeyed the SC order by issuing an administrative order to this effect on the 26th of October 2016 banning all forms of chewing tobacco throughout the State. According to media reports, Government is rethinking on revising this order due to a representation given by a tobacco manufacturer.
Therefore, Government of Karnataka should not buckle under pressure of vested interests, take immediate action to plug the loopholes in the Government Order/Notification based on orders of Supreme Court and also orders issued by other States and keeping in mind the deadly effect of consuming non-smoke/chewing tobacco on the health of millions of families of low, middle class and also rich and famous people addicted to variants of Ghutka based on Supreme Court Order and also orders issued by other States of the Union of India.
Tobacco Activists are concerned that any revision must not be detrimental to the ban already passed in 2013. Government of Karnataka must also keep in mind, in a holistic manner, the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India, which direct the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about proper control over such products that are injurious to health of the people.
One in three adults (28.2%) in Karnataka consumes one or the other form of tobacco. Hence large parts of the population are facing a risk of serious ill health like cancer, heart attacks and TB which are preventable. These figures are alarmingly high and clearly pose a huge risk to public health in the state. Tobacco has been shown to act as a gateway to reduce hunger as these are very affordable and easily available at all locations. Children who get initiated to tobacco usage at a young age are more likely to experiment illicit drugs and get addicted to them. Invariably children with lower socio-economic backgrounds commonly use chewing tobacco products and their prolonged use of these harmful products leads to several precancerous and cancerous lesions of the oral cavity which are increasingly seen in our youth.
– Vasanthkumar Mysoremath
(Cancer Patients Aid Association and Anti-tobacco Forum)