State likely to ban gutka in battle against tobacco

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Waking up to the alarming increase in tobacco addiction, the State government is likely to impose a ban on gutka, joining the group of 25 States and five Union Territories that have already banned it.

Health and Family Welfare Minister U.T. Khader told reporters on the eve of World No Tobacco Day that a decision on the matter was likely to be taken in the next four weeks. “It is mandatory for us to ban gutka now as we also have to submit a compliance report to the Supreme Court in the next four weeks. After we take a decision, we will submit it as the compliance report to the court,” he said.

The ban, if imposed, will be under the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulations, 2011, which prohibits the use of nicotine and tobacco in any food product (2.3.4). These regulations have been framed based on the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

Besides, with the Supreme Court ruling that pan masala is a food product, State governments have been compelled to impose the ban.

The debate on a ban on gutka has been on for a long time. In April 2011, the then Special Secretary to the Union Health Ministry, Keshav Desiraju, had written to Karnataka’s Principal Secretary (Health) E.V. Ramana Reddy advising the State Government to consider imposing the ban.

Allaying fears that the ban would hit arecanut growers and tobacco farmers hard, the Minister said that the ban, if imposed, would be only on gutka and not on arecanut (supari).

“If we open a gutka packet, we find more of other ingredients (chemicals) and less of supari. If the ban has not affected farmers in other States, I am sure it will not have any effect here,” Mr. Khader said.

Faculty members from the Institute of Public Health, who have been arguing for the ban for several years, have welcomed the move.

“We submitted another detailed letter to the State government’s high power committee on tobacco control on May 21 explaining reasons for the ban. We want the government to ban tobacco in all forms, otherwise it will not be possible to implement gutka ban effectively,” said Upendra Bhojani from the institute.

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