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Naveen banishes gutka from state

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 1: The Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha today banned the consumption, manufacture and sale of gutka (chewable tobacco) across the state.

“A notification to this effect will be issued within two or three days,” said health minister Damodar Rout.

Rout said the consumption of gutka caused oral cancer, which was common in India. “We have decided to impose the ban in view of public safety,” he said.

Odisha is the 15th state in the country to enforce the ban. The ban is already in place in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab and Mizoram following a Supreme Court order.

Health experts have been raising concerns over the rampant consumption of gutka and other chewable tobacco products.

“Gutka is highly addictive and its excessive and regular intake may lead to oral or pharyngeal cancer. Most people who have this addiction are young people from the lower-economic strata,” said medicine specialist Nihar Samal, adding that a major chunk of oral cancer cases in eastern India was from Odisha.

Nasha Mukti Yuva Sankalp, a youth organisation fighting for a total prohibition on addictives, had filed a PIL in Orissa High Court seeking a ban on gutka and other chewable products.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Md Imran Ali, an activist, said that not just gutka, other chewable tobacco such as khaini, zarda and paan masala with tobacco should be banned.

He said that according to Section 2 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, no product containing tobacco or nicotine could be sold.

Itishree Kanungo, an activist of the Voluntary Health Association of India, said the imposition of ban on gutka was a welcome step. “But there should be a strict implementation strategy,” she said, adding that enforcement of the ban was not going to be easy.

Sanatan Sahu, who runs a betel shop, conceded that enforcement of the ban may not be practically possible because gutka was extremely popular. “Those who are addicted to it, will buy it illegally anyway,” he said.

Sahu admitted that sale of gutka was also profitable for vendors. “I sell gutka worth between Rs 2,000 and 2,500 every day and earn a profit of Rs 400 to 500 a day,” he said.

Earlier, the state-run Odisha State Cooperative Milk Producers Federation (Omfed) had decided not to sell gutka at its milk booths.

Orissa High Court had issued a directive to Omfed authorities in this regard.

On November 30, 2010, The Telegraph had reported as to how Omfed booth owners were helping in spreading the use of tobacco products and employing children to sell them.