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Smokeless tobacco has 28 carcinogens
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 4
Smokeless tobacco products being marketed in India contain 3095 chemical components with serious implications for human health. About 28 of these components are proven carcinogens, areca nut the most commonly used of all.

What’s more - the latest studies demonstrate the presence of heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic and nickel in these products, with one recent research reporting that 30 per cent gutkha brand samples freely available in tea-stalls, bus stops, railway stations and several public places in the country, exceed the permissible levels of lead and copper when compared to the provisional tolerable intake limits determined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO).

These startling revelations were made today by the Health Ministry officials who led the debate with the stakeholders on the need to regulate the availability and use of smokeless tobacco in India. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2010 has put the overall tobacco users in India at 34.6 per cent; of these, 25.9 per cent are using smokeless tobacco (as against 14 per cent smokers).

Alarmed by the rising oral cancer burden in the country and the fact that there’s no regulation on smokeless tobacco, the Health Ministry today shared shocking findings of studies that show abundant presence of Tobacco-specific N-Nitrosamines (TSNA) - harmful chemicals - and even radioactive polonium in smokeless forms.

“No safe level of TSNAs has been ascribed so far. Other carcinogens in smokeless tobaccos include volatile N-nitrosamines, certain lactones, metals and radioactive polonium,” Dr Jagjit Kaur, Chief Medical Officer, Directorate of Health Services, today told TNS, admitting that easy and cheap availability of such forms and low taxes on them make their production lucrative.

Studies have further indicated an increased risk of all-cancer mortality in smokeless tobacco users compared to non-users and the increased risk was specifically visible in female users. “There is also evidence of increased risk of drying from cardiovascular diseases among these users,” Kaur said at the national consultation on ways to regulate smokeless tobacco, which began here today.

The Government has elicited these findings for submission to the Supreme Court, currently hearing the Ankur Gutkha versus Indian Asthma Care Society case in which it earlier banned the sale of smokeless tobacco in plastic sachets.

The need for regulation of smokeless tobacco further arises from the rising use of these forms by youngsters and women. Worryingly, a lot of these users are daily users. Out of the 25.9 per cent current smokeless tobacco consumers in India, for example, 21.4 are daily users. Out of these 27.4 per cent are males and 14.9 per cent are females.

While males prefer khaini (18 per cent usage), women prefer tobaccos for oral application (6.3 per cent usage). Overall, khaini tops the smokeless tobacco usage charts with 11.6 per cent consumers by Gutkha at 8.2, betel quid (paan) with tobacco at 6.2 and tobacco-laced dentrifices at 4.7 per cent users.





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