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Cancer scare for tuibur users

- Environmentalists warn of river pollution in Mizoram

Aizawl, March 19: A water-soluble tobacco smoke extract called tuibur, consumed by the Mizos since time immemorial, has become a headache for anti-tobacco campaigners and environmentalists.

Apart from health hazards, its method and large scale of production has become a cause for concern for environmentalists.

Tuibur is produced by passing smoke, generated by burning tobacco, through water till the preparation turns a cognac-like in colour and has a pungent smell. Users take about 5-10ml of tuibur orally, keep it in the mouth for some time and then spit it out. Most of the users take it several times a day.

In the past, indigenous crude devices were used to produce tuibur on a small scale. It was usually produced by women smoking a specially designed pipe. Over the years, new instruments have been invented to produce the extract on a much larger scale with increase in demand. Such factories are usually based on rivulets.

Concerned over heavy pollution of water by the factories, the Mizoram State Pollution Control Board had recently served a notice to rivulet-based tuibur factories.

“We have issued a relocation order to all tuibur factories based on rivulets but none has abided by the order. We are about to issue another order that will be followed by stringent action,” a source in the board said.

“Not a single aquatic animal survives in rivulets near tuibur factories. We had asked all these factories to close down. On humanitarian grounds, we feel the need to find a method to produce tuibur without polluting the rivers because closing down the factories would mean taking away livelihood of many families,” a pollution board official said.

The Mizoram Tobacco Control Society is also concerned about the health hazards tuibur causes.

According to an official data, in Mizoram tobacco and its products are consumed by 62 per cent women, of which nearly 50 per cent consume tobacco in smokeless form, khaini and tuibur.

“Though we do not have specific data on the number of people using khaini and tuibur, the fact that more than 50 per cent women use smokeless tobacco indicates a high percentage of people taking tuibur. Of late, tuibur has become popular among young girls,” said Dr Jane Ralte, the state nodal officer for anti-tobacco campaign.

Nearly 72 per cent of Mizoram’s men consume tobacco and about 33 per cent of them use it in the smokeless form.

According to the Mizoram Population Based Cancer Registry report 2013, cancer has killed 1,330 people, including 532 women, in the state in the last two years. The report, published by the Indian Council for Medical Research, said cancer was detected in 1,376 males and 1,107 women during the period.

Tuibur is a major factor behind the high incidents of cancer in Mizoram. Its toxicity has been studied using a modified version of Allium test. “Even dilute solutions of tuibur exhibited significant toxicity,” the study said.

Besides, most tuibur factories are located in unhygienic environment. “The surroundings, the water used for production and adulterants double the risk of health hazards,” Ralte said.

Another grave concern is that packets of tuibur and other local tobacco products like meizial (hand-rolled cigarettes) and sahdah (khaini), do not carry any health warning, pictorial or written, which is an offence under Section 7 of the Control of Tobacco Products Act.

The Mizoram State Tobacco Control Society had last year directed all local tobacco manufacturers to put warning labels on packets containing tobacco products. The Mizoram chapter of the Indian Society for Tobacco and Health, led by Lal Riliani, wife of chief minister Lal Thanhawla, has provided stickers to local tobacco manufacturers, but only a few of them actually use those.

“A majority of tuibur containers are still found without any warning stickers. We will conduct raids soon and seize all the packets not carrying warnings,” Ralte said.

Tuibur is sold in different containers, from medicine bottles to aerated drink bottles — whatever the manufacturers can get hold of.


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