New Delhi, Oct. 1: Many prominent manufacturers are surreptitiously lacing mouth fresheners with cancer-causing gutkha to make them addictive, the Centre has told the Supreme Court.
The sale of gutkha, which contains tobacco, is banned in all states and Union Territories except Meghalaya and Lakshadweep.
“The ban on gutkha has been ineffective due to surreptitious activities of the smokeless tobacco industry,” additional solicitor-general Indira Jaising said.
“Many popular gutkha manufacturers are clandestinely using gutkha even in mouth fresheners and selling it to people. Their idea is to make people addicts and consume the products in large numbers,” she told the court.
The only remedy was to ban all forms of smokeless tobacco and related products, including mouth fresheners.
“Pan masala and arecanut or supari is a known carcinogenic. If gutkha is banned but other form of smokeless tobacco and its derivatives or additives, such as pan masala and flavoured arecanut or supari, is not banned then that would make the implementation of such a ban impossible,” Jaising told the court.
The Centre said popular gutkha manufacturers and producers were blatantly violating the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, by misbranding their “unsafe and substandard” gutkha and tobacco.
The court was hearing arguments on a batch of petitions by NGOs seeking a ban on cancer-causing gutkha and cross-appeals by the manufacturers who argue that gutkha cannot be singled out and that the same yardstick should apply to cigarettes. The arguments will resume on Friday.
Jaising told the bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and C. Nagappan that the manufacturers had a moral and social responsibility. In reply to a query from the court, she said: “We are not expected to issue any further clarification or notification as under Section 26 of the 2006 Act a duty is cast on the food manufacturers (not to adulterate).”
The law officer said that although tobacco products are banned from sale in the close proximity of educational institutions, the order was followed more in the breach. Again, she said, the responsibility for enforcing the ban also lay with the heads of the educational institutions.
“It is not that we will not act. But it is for the manufacturers and heads of educational institutions to act,” she told the bench.
The government, in its written submissions before the court, today said the use of smokeless tobacco indicates significant risk of oral cancer, pharyngeal cancer, oesophageal cancer and pancreatic cancer. The risk of these cancers is found to increase with higher dosage and frequency of smokeless tobacco use, the health ministry said.
“Tobacco is the only consumer product that kills half of its consumers prematurely…. Tobacco has got no use whatsoever apart from causing death and disability,” the government said.