Despite a state government ban prohibiting manufacture, sale and purchase of gutkha and flavoured tobacco, an indicative study by John Hopkins University, which does research work in public health, has shown that 35 per cent of the people surveyed still have access to gutkha in Maharashtra. The John Hopkins study, shared with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday, calls for a greater monitoring mechanism along with stricter implementation of the existing ban.
John Hopkins carried out the survey in Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Bihar with the World Health Organization (WHO) to analyse whether gutkha is available despite the ban and its consumption pattern. A total of 1,001 users of gutkha and 450 retail outlets were surveyed in detail.
In Maharashtra, gutkha as well as paan masala, including all types of processed or packaged tobacco and flavoured and scented tobacco, have been banned by the government. According to Dr Pradeep Krishnatray, part of the survey team, the study was conducted in Mumbai and Thane in the state, covering 124 users and 61 retail outlets. Maharashtra reported the highest consumption of packaged gutkha as opposed to Delhi that reported 12 per cent usage and Assam with 3 per cent usage among the surveyed people. Gutkha is banned in these states.
A significant 39 per cent surveyed people in the state admitted to have initiated tobacco consumption before they turned 20 years as opposed to the national capital that fared better with 18 per cent of the surveyed population agreeing to the same. “A lot of retailers and users supported the ban on gutkha, but only 50 per cent of the users attempted to quit this habit,” Krishnatray said.
The study highlighted another significant aspect — 85 per cent retailers admitted that gutkha is manufactured in the state itself. FDA Commissioner Dr Harshdeep Kamble, however, said, “Our intelligence has not found manufacturing units functioning in the state. Most of the gutkha is coming from Gujarat. We are in the process of coordinating with agencies to stop the passage.”
The study showed that banned gutkha was being sold for a higher price and less than 12 retailers of the 60 surveyed in the state displayed a sign saying gutkha is banned for minors. “There needs to be more focus on children who are on the verge of falling into tobacco addiction. Even advertisements of paan masala have to be monitored as children get attracted to the glamour quotient,” said Tata Memorial Hospital’s Director Dr Rajan Badwe.
Taking a note of the advertisements, Kamble said advertisements of banned products were punishable under the Drug and Magic Remedies Act, 1954. The FDA is now going to issue notices to companies showing television and print ads of packaged paan masala endorsed by Bollywood actors. In the last three and a half years, since the ban came into place, gutkha and paan masala worth Rs 59.7 crore have been seized and destroyed by the FDA.
* 35 per cent of retail gutkha outlets were found near educational institutes, which is prohibited
* 2-3 per cent retailers admitted they sell gutkha to children
* Despite the ban, 15% retail outlets were approached by suppliers to stock gutkha
* 15 per cent users of gutkha said ban had led to rise in cigarette use
* 59 per cent users stopped gutkha consumption after the ban