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Gutka ban: SC order awaited

Last updated: 02 September, 2011
New Delhi, Sep 2, DHNS: 23:17 IST

Tobacco kills between 700,000 to one million Indians every year, most dying of mouth cancer

Even though it admits that ''gutka'' is a food adulterant, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is waiting for a clearcut direction from the Supreme Court before acting against various smokeless tobacco products sold in the market.

According to the rules notified by FSSAI, no food products should contain any substance that may be injurious to health. It further says tobacco and nicotine shall not be used as ingredients in any food products.

“Gutka is an adulterated version of the pan-masala in which tobacco is added to the masala,” explained an official. There is a laid-down standard for pan-masala but there is no standard for gutka.

FSSAI director V N Gaur said chewing tobacco like gutka could be called food because it is consumed like any other food product. The authority, however, was not going ahead full steam to check the gutka menace because there were many “legal gray area” on which it wanted a clear-cut guideline from the Supreme Court, sources told Deccan Herald. The case on gutka is still being heard by the apex court. Even though the authority as well as the food inspectors cannot officially say they are not taking any step to check consumption of gutka, unofficially emphasis for the FSSAI remains on food products like “oils, butter, milk and consumer food items” rather than gutka, which is being considered a “health issue” whose responsibility lies with the Union health ministry.

A few years ago, 12 states including Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat officially banned sale of gutka based on the Centre’s advisory. But in reality it is sold rampantly all over the country taking advantage of legal loopholes sustaining, what health activists claim, a Rs 8000 crore industry. Incidentally, even though gutka comes under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act of 2003, the Union health ministry has not notified any rules on gutka so far keeping the focus entirely on cigarettes and beedis.

Tobacco kills between 700,000 to one million Indians every year and many are victims of mouth cancer, caused by smokeless tobacco in 80 per cent cases. Health activists quoted many rulings and orders of the Supreme Court showing that the Centre has legal powers and authority to ban gutka because it is injurious to health. They said both FSSAI and its predecessor Prevention of Food Adulteration Act has provisions showing gutka as a food item on which actions can be taken.

Providing an example of ineffective implementation of rules, Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director of the Voluntary Health Association of India said despite the apex court’s December order ban of sale of chewing tobacco and other paan masala products in plastic packets, it is openly being done so. The order came into force March 1, 2011.

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