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‘Tobacco-free’ pan masalas found high in nicotine
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
The next time you see a pan masala major marketing itself as “tobacco-free”, don’t get taken in by the promise. Days after the Supreme Court banned the sale of smokeless tobacco products in plastic packages across the country, a study commissioned by the Ministry of Health has shown that top pan masala brands, claiming to be 100 per cent tobacco-free, are actually high in nicotine. They have been found to contain tobacco despite claims that they have none.

Global adult tobaCco survey

n India houses 274. 9 million tobacco users
n 84 per cent (231.9 million) of these are daily users
n 14 per cent adults are smokers
n 25.9 per cent use smokeless tobacco forms, the highest (12 per cent) use being of tobacco-lime mixture (khaini), followed by 8 per cent use of areca nut.

The study was recently ordered by the Ministry of Health to determine the tobacco (nicotine) and pH levels of various gutkha, pan masala, khaini and zarda brands being sold in the Indian markets. The data is being generated to fix maximum regulatory limits for nicotine levels in smokeless tobacco which emerged as a major addiction among the Indian population, as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey findings released last year.

While gutkha, zarda and khaini are known to contain some tobacco and are sold as such (their manufacturers don’t claim zero-tobacco content), pan masala makers promote and advertise their products as “100 per cent tobacco-less”, subject as they are to review under the 1955 rules of the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act.

Scientific analysis of randomly picked pan masala brand samples by the Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI), Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh has revealed that “Rajnigandha,”a popular pan masala, contains 2.26 gm of nicotine per 100 gm of pan masala. This was the highest nicotine content determined in the six samples (of all forms of smokeless tobacco) which the CTRI sampled for analysis. Goa 1000 Gutkha brand was found to have 2.04 gm of nicotine per 100 gm of the product; Manikchand’s Gutkha RMD contained 1.88 gm nicotine; Chaini Khaini contained 0.58 gm of nicotine while Raja Khaini had 1.02 gm of nicotine per 100 gm of the smokeless product. All these products were listed by the Health Ministry for sampling and testing. The listing was done randomly.

In a parallel study on the nicotine contents of smokeless tobacco products by the Food Research and Standardisation Lab, Ghaziabad under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) also showed Rajnigandha pan masala containing very high nicotine levels at 13.28 gm per 100 gm of the product. Parag Premium pan masala contains 0.16 gm of nicotine in every 100 gm of the product. These brands market themselves as tobacco-free.

In all the tested samples, pH levels were found to be such as are contributing to quick absorption of nicotine in the blood, delivering to the consumer the desired kick. This translates into high-addiction value of the product in question.

The Health Ministry had asked the FSSAI to study nicotine content and parameters like magnesium carbonate and pH in four samples each of pan masalas. The FSSAI refused saying determination of tobacco was not its mandate under the PFA Act. It was then that the ministry commissioned the study to the CTRI.

Ministry sources today told The Tribune, “We were surprised at the FSSAI’s refusal to conduct the study considering pan masalas fall under the purview of the PFA Act’s Rules 1955 whose implementation the FSSAI should ensure. Pan masala makers are marketing their products as tobacco-free. How are they doing so when studies show they actually contain tobacco? Who will regulate them if not the FSSAI?”





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