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Despite ban, gutka sale rampant in dist

1,June, 2016

Aurangabad: Despite the sale or possession of gutka prohibited across the state, the banned material continues to be sold on a large scale Aurangabad district.

According to the District Tobacco Control Cell (DTCC), gutka is being sold at an exorbitant price at as many as 7,000-8,000 illegal kiosks in the city, which has been brought to the notice of FDA officials.

A health official from DTCC, established under the National Tobacco Control Programme at the district civil hospital, said a large number of local vendors as well as paan kiosks can be seen flouting the rules openly. Gutka shops have also been set up at many public places such as bus stands, railway stations and government offices, he said.

The official said this was brought to the notice of FDA officials on many occasions, but to no avail. "In fact, we identified three prime locations – Cidco bus stand, Kalda Corner and near Deepali Hotel in Cidco – where the sale of gutka was rampant about three months ago. But no action has been initiated till date," the official added.

"The ban on gutka and other chewable tobacco products imposed by the government in the state appears to be only on paper. The sale continues unabated due to apathy of the officials tasked with enforcing the ban," said social activist Anna Vaidya.

"With clinical studies proving that chewable tobacco products were highly carcinogenic and were the prime contributors of oral cancers, most of the states in the country had banned them. The Maharashtra government then followed suit by imposing a ban on the manufacture, transportation, distribution and sale of gutka and other similar products in the state," he said.

"However, failure on part of the authorities from the departments of food safety, labour, commercial tax, medical and health as well as police and municipal corporations in enforcing the ban has led to violation by sellers and consumers," he added.

However, officials of the food safety department, the prime monitoring and ban-enforcement agency, claimed that they regularly conduct raids and file cases, but the gutka business is still thriving in the Aurangabad division.

"We have seized gutka worth over Rs 1.5 between April 2015 and March 2016 in Aurangabad district, while 40 cases of illegal gutka sale are being tried in different courts. Moreover, altogether 28 licences of illegal paan kiosks have also been cancelled," said Anand Pardhi, FDA (food) assistant joint commissioner, Aurangabad division.

Pardhi said only 30% of staff is making efforts to curb the illegal business. "As part of our duty, we conduct raids on illegal stock holders of foodgrains and other commodities. On similar lines, we are also identifying the stocks of banned tobacco products," he said."We recently raided a paan shop at Sajapur village in Aurangabad taluka engaged in the sale of gutka and paan masala. We confiscated goods worth Rs 33,240," Pardhi added.

In the meantime, experts at the Government Cancer Hospital (GCH) in Aurangabad said despite the Maharashtra government extending the ban on the sale and manufacture of processed or packaged tobacco products, around 30-40% of the total cancer cases are oral cancer cases of which 90% are due to chewing tobacco.

Recent reports of the GCH clearly indicate that nearly 30% of all the cancer cases fall in the category of oral cancer. Moreover, the presence of high-risk groups, especially tobacco chewers and smokers besides others comprising people using tobacco in other forms such as betel quid, is enough cause concerns.

"Of the 100 cancer patients turning up at the surgical oncology department, nearly 30 are diagnosed with oral cancer. Nearly 25% of the remaining patients are diagnosed with cervical cancer, while another 20% belong to the breast cancer category," said Arvind Gaikwad, officer on special duty at GCH."The heavy presence of high-risk groups, especially those involved in indigenous form of smoking as well as chewing tobacco, increases the threat and burden of oral cancer in the region," the officer added.

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