GUWAHATI, Sept 8 – More than five months after the ban on use of plastic pouches containing tobacco products by a Supreme Court verdict came into effect, which stated that manufacturers of gutkha, tobacco and pan masala are restrained from using plastic material in the sachets, the manufacturers of chewing tobacco and pan masala are now violating the rule as found by a recent survey conducted by Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) and its partner organisations in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
In Assam, the study was conducted in Kamrup (Metro) and Golaghat districts by Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA) to ascertain whether gutkha or pan masala companies are still selling sachets in plastic and not adhering to the new rules. Despite having imposed the ban from March 1, plastic pouches are widely sold as government agencies have not taken any action against the companies, traders or retailers selling those.
A total of 76 shops were visited for the survey in which 22 different brands were available. Brands were available in small, medium and big-size pouches. Brands that were manufactured before March 1 were also available in the market. As these were manufactured before March 2011, these pouches were available in plastic material.
But there were several brands that were newly packed and available in plastic packaging but the manufacturers did not print the manufacturing date and batch number so that they can flout the law easily.
Of the total 76 vendors interviewed, 42 per cent said that they know about the ban and were quite aware that selling gutka and pan masala in plastic pouches is a punishable offence. Among the gutka vendors, 18 per cent said that there has been enforcement of the new law, but 82 per cent said that there has been no enforcement.
Of the 76 shopkeepers visited, 18 per cent said that officials had visited their shops for checking of plastic rule violation. These checks were done by the police and municipal bodies but no one was penalised for the violation.
All the samples that were collected were purchased at a higher rate of 50 to 100 per cent of the MRP. When the vendors were asked about it, they said that they are purchasing it at a higher rate from the suppliers, which showed that there was black marketing of the products.
“Gutkha and other forms of chewing tobacco sold in small pouches across the country have become a very serious health hazard. Since gutkha and pan masala are marketed as mouth fresheners, its habit starts at a very young age. Gutkha use is becoming an alternative in India as our social mores do not permit children or women to smoke cigarettes,” said Ruchira Neog, executive secretary, VHAA.
It may be mentioned that after the Environment Ministry’s ban on plastic packaging for tobacco products, the Health Ministry's Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has now issued a notification stating that no food article shall contain tobacco or nicotine in the products with effect from August 5.