'Ban may save kids from oral disease'

With the ban on gutka finally seeing the light of the day, health experts in the State say that a number of children will be saved from the effects of oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF).

OSMF is an oral disease caused by the consumption of carcinogenic substances present in gutka and other smokeless tobacco products and characterised by the loss of elasticity of the mouth. Till a few years ago, the disease was normally seen among those aged 40 and above. However, in recent years, it was detected even among children as young as 12 years, said Dr M G Bhat, president, Indian Dental Association, Karnataka.

“I am involved with a number of dental programmes in schools and I have seen cases where elementary schoolchildren aged 10 and 11 years have the last stages of oral submucous fibrosis,” said Dr Bhat.

According to the Institute of Public Health, an estimated 8.2 per cent of high school students in semi-urban areas, 6.2 per cent in metropolises and 3.4 per cent in rural areas are in the habit of chewing tobacco. Among pre-university students, across rural and urban areas, the usage is 2.7 per cent.

A study conducted by the Department of Community Medicine, Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore, that was published in the Australiasian Medical Journal, estimates that tobacco use in schoolgoing children in the 13-15 age group in the State was 4.9 per cent. The study further states that chewing of gutka products usually starts at an early age (between 13 and 15) and by adulthood, most get addicted to it.

Marketing of gutka more as a mouth freshner than tobacco products, experts say, is one of the reasons why OSMF has been found in children. Such a marketing resulted in gutka sachets being sold in stalls around schools and other places frequented by children. The study by Kasturba Medical College also states that aggressive advertising and marketing of gutka in small, attractive and inexpensive sachets since early 1980s has greatly enhanced the sales of these products.

“These products are made to look so attractive that children get tempted to buy them and many of them do so without knowing its impact,” said Dr Vishal Rao, director, Cancer Prevention Project, Institute of Public Health.

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