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Health Ministry for banning smokeless tobacco
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
The Health Ministry is in favour of banning smokeless forms of tobacco which are being used by 25 per cent of the population and are known to contain chemical components with serious implications for human health.

Answering a query on the sidelines of the launch of “Tobacco kills your baby”, a 30-second mass media campaign aimed at highlighting the ills of passive tobacco consumption, Keshav Desiraju, Additional Secretary, Health, said, “Smokeless tobacco contains toxic substances. Banning these forms is in the realm of what the Ministry wants. We are awaiting the verdict of the Supreme Court which is seized of the issue.”

The court, while hearing “Ankur Gutkha versus Indian Asthma Care Society” case, earlier banned sale of smokeless tobacco in plastic sachets.

In response to the petition, wherein the court sought the Centre’s response, the Health Ministry commissioned studies that proved smokeless forms of tobacco (like khaini, tobacco-laced dentrifices and gutkas) were extremely harmful for health.

Studies have shown that smokeless products being marketed in India contain 3,095 harmful chemical components. About 28 of these are proven carcinogens, areca nut being the most dangerous.

“Our studies have shown the presence of heavy metals in smokeless forms of tobacco, an area where we, as a Ministry, are now focusing greater attention. We have submitted our studies to the SC,” Desiraju said.

These studies demonstrate the presence of heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic and nickel in smokeless tobacco products. One research shows 30 per cent gutka brand samples are freely available at tea stalls and other public places, and the content of lead and copper therein exceeds permitted levels. The levels are much higher than those laid down by the WHO and Food and Agriculture Office.

The findings have bolstered the Ministry’s case for seeking effective regulation of smokeless forms, which are not regulated at present. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey India 2010 had put the overall tobacco users in India at 34.6 per cent; of these, 25.9 per cent were using smokeless tobacco.

The Ministry also presented to the SC studies that show the presence of Tobacco-specific N-Nitrosamines (TSNA) - harmful chemicals - and even radioactive polonium in smokeless tobacco.

In India, no safe level of TSNAs has been prescribed so far. India has 25.9 per cent smokeless tobacco users.

‘Gutka is a food product; can’t coat it with tobacco’

Mixing tobacco with gutka will soon be punishable under the prevention of food adulteration laws. Health Ministry today said it would issue instructions to state governments against allowing manufacturers to use tobacco products in gutka sachets because the Supreme Court has, in a recent, judgment, clarified that gutka is a food product and is governed by anti-food adulteration laws. Anyone found using tobacco on gutka can then be punished under prevention of food adulteration laws.





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