For some,gutkha ban comes too late

Doctors,experts stress enforcement will be key as manufacturers may have shifted base

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Published: July 13, 2012 1:14 am

Doctors,experts stress enforcement will be key as manufacturers may have shifted base

Shaikh Shafique,the 23-year-old factory worker who vowed to end the tobacco menace in the low budget film Malegaon ka Superman that won accolades at film festivals,lost his own battle against oral cancer last year.

Sixty-year-old Congressman Satish Pednekar,who was Maharashtra’s home and labour minister,died of oral cancer last year. He was addicted mawa,a mix of chewing tobacco and paan masala.

As the state cabinet approved a ban on the manufacture and sale of gutkha and paan masala,families like those of Shafique and Pednekar wished it had come earlier.

“It was a nightmare. My husband had recurrent illnesses,could not swallow even watery dal-khichdi and died last year of advanced oral cancer,” recalled Pednekar’s wife Sumitra. “I am happy that Maharashtra has finally taken the step to ban gutkha and help save so many young lives.”

Nasir Shaikh,who directed the spoof Superman which had Shafique’s character playing a hero who wants to finish tobacco in Malegaon,said,“It is really sad that Shafique who fought the tobacco villain in the film,was killed by the same menace. He was addicted to gutkha from the time he was a teen,and chewed 30-40 packets every day. We had urged him to end this addiction.”

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi,cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial hospital who took,along with other doctors,the initiative to set up Voice of Tobacco Victims,the online anti-tobacco platform,expressed satisfaction that at least packets of gutkha would no longer be easily available.

“Shafique was in an advanced stage of oral cancer,” Dr Chaturvedi said. “Half his tongue had been eaten up by gutkha. He choked in September last year.”

India has the highest prevalence of oral cancer in the world,with 75,000-80,000 new cases being reported every year. Dr Vandana Joshi,an ENT specialist who along with other doctors has set up Prevent Addictions through Child Education and reached out to 40,000 schoolchildren,said she feared gutkha makers would find a way around the ban. But,as cancer surgeon Dr Kamlesh Bokil said,“at least the ban will make it difficult to procure gutkha”.

Dr Kalyan Gangwal,founder of the NGO Sarva Jeev Mangal Pratishthan,said,“It is likely that manufacturers of gutkha and paan masala have already shifted to other places outside Maharashtra and sending their stocks here. The ban has to be strictly implemented. It must be ensured that there is no illegal sale,” Gangwal said.

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