Punjab bows, lifts gutkha manufacture ban
Only sales prohibited; move comes seven months after WHO feted state for anti-tobacco programme
- Smokeless tobacco is largely associated with oral cancers; India sees around 80,000 oral cancer cases annually
- India has 275 million tobacco users; 206 million of them use smokeless tobacco
New Delhi, January 6
The Punjab government today took a major step backward in its journey towards tobacco control by lifting the ban on manufacture of gutkha, pan masala and other processed, flavoured and scented food products containing tobacco or nicotine as ingredients. Manufacture of chewable tobacco products will now be allowed and only their storage, sale and distribution will be prohibited within Punjab.
The state’s diluted stand is revealed in its latest anti tobacco notification, issued by Punjab Food Safety Commissioner Hussan Lal. Punjab was among the first states to ban production and sale of harmful smokeless chewing tobacco forms after the Union Health Ministry in August 2011 framed new prevention of food adulteration rules.
These rules, issued by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, clarified that “tobacco and nicotine will not be used as ingredients in food products”. This meant that since gutkha, khaini, masher, zarda, toothpastes, etc, were all food products, consumed for flavour or use, they could not contain injurious substances like nicotine or tobacco, proven carcinogens. After FSSAI regulations, 12 states banned the production and sale of gutkha and pan masalas containing tobacco; Punjab being one. Asked why the state succumbed to tobacco lobby pressure to permit production of harmful chewing tobacco, Hussan Lal told The Tribune,
“A blanket ban was hurting our tobacco industry. At present, there are 20 states without blanket bans on production and even sale of chewing and scented tobacco. Punjab imposed an initial full ban on Centre’s directions but later we realised that our tobacco industry was suffering.
Only a nationwide ban on production and sale of chewing and flavoured tobacco can work. We have taken the decision to allow manufacture of chewing tobacco forms in all fairness.
Sales within Punjab remain prohibited.” Punjab’s retrograde step comes seven months after the World Health Organisation feted it for its anti-tobacco programme. Also, public health experts today said Punjab was violating central FSSAI rules by choosing to allow manufacture of gutkha, pan masala, khaini, zarda, etc.
“Union regulations ban production and sale of harmful tobacco. Punjab can’t pick and choose. Also, Punjab’s differential standards on public health are shocking. How can it assume what’s unhealthy for Punjab is not unhealthy for other states?” asks Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, cancer specialist at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. Chaturvedi, active on India’s anti-tobacco policy, says production of gutkha and pan masala is banned across India under FSSAI rules.
“Flavoured tobacco has been banned only in 13 states. Gujarat recently exempted gutkha units exporting the product and was found to be in violation of central rules. Punjab has done worse by allowing production and sale in all states except itself,” Chaturvedi said.