GUWAHATI, Sept 8 – Anti-tobacco campaigners in Assam has hailed a move by the Government of Mizoram that they have been demanding for their State for a long time. In a bold initiative to protect citizens from the menace of smokeless tobacco products, the Government of Mizoram has banned the sale and manufacture of products like gutka, khaini and other smokeless tobacco products by issuing the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulation no 2.3.4 that prohibits the addition of tobacco or nicotine in food.
“Assam should take a leaf out of Mizoram’s book and ban Gutkha and Pan Masala. Our State has got one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country due to rampant habit of tobacco consumption. While the revenue from Gutka will be few hundred crore, the health care losses run into thousands of crores. As per the FSSAI 2011, the Government of Assam should enforce ban on Gutka and Pan Masala at the earliest”, said Ruchira Neog, Executive Secretary, and Voluntary Health Association of Assam.
Considering the health hazards related to chewing tobacco, which causes mouth, throat cancer at early years, 10 states Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Punjab, Gujarat had already banned gutka and pan masala. This was mentioned in an official note from the Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA).
These States have banned the sale, manufacture and distribution of gutka, khaini, pan masala containing tobacco, based on the regulation issued in August 2011 by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). According to the rule 2.3.4 of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations, 2011, “Tobacco and nicotine shall not be used as ingredients in any food products”.
The Government of Mizoram has demonstrated tremendous commitment towards safe guarding the health of people of Mizoram and protecting the masses, especially the youth from the growing menace of tobacco addiction and has set an example before all north eastern states by banning gutkha, pan masala and zarda, said the VHAA.
In a public forum, recently, the victims of cancer due to tobacco consumption, doctors and tobacco control advocates appealed to the Government of Assam to take the cue from the ten states to do the same in the state. This appeal was made at an event organized at the Voice of Tobacco Victims organized jointly by Voluntary Health Association of Assam and the Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute, Guwahati. A Charter of Demands was also presented by the tobacco victims at the event.
India has the highest prevalence of oral cancer globally, with 75, 000 to 80, 000 new cases of oral cancers being reported every year. Nearly 80 per cent of all oral cancer cases are due to the consumption of tobacco products like gutka, pan masala, betel quid with tobacco and khaini.
India spends approximately Rs 300 billion annually in both public and private health services, on treatment of tobacco related illness, accounting for roughly one fourth of all health spending. According to the WHO, the total economic cost of tobacco use in India for 2004 amounted to $1.7 billion, which is 16 per cent more than the total excise tax revenues collected from all tobacco products in India in the financial year 2003-04 ($1.46 billion).