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Gutkha Ban - Reality or Farce?

By Dr. Leo Rebello

Complete prohibition on the production, stocking, selling and also advertising of Gutkha and Paan Masala became effective from 1st August, 2002. Earlier Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh had done so. Now Madhya Pradesh high court has also imposed a ban on the consumption of Gutkha, Paan Masala, etc. It is about time other states followed suit, because it has been the root cause of cancers, stroke, lung and liver complications, kidney disorders, and early death due to wasting.

The decision was long overdue, because the surveys after surveys showed that more than 20 lakhs young persons had become addicted to this loathsome habit.

Gutkha was started by someone with Rs.500 capital in a cottage. In about 15 years it had achieved gargantuan markets (crossing some Rs. 5000 crore sale annually) and making everyone its slave.

That even the paanwallas, who made a daily profit of Rs.200 approximately by selling Gutkha, and those who used to chew it indiscriminately have welcomed the Government decision, shows that people's habits can be modified by Government fiat. There is fine of Rs.1000 and jail term ranging from minimum 6 months to 3 years, which has sent shivers down the spine of the Paanwallahs.

But wait, Gutkha will make a back door entry because Mava, Khaini and Paan have not been banned. The vigilant citizens will have to ensure that Gutkha is not mixed with these products and sold clandestinely, like the mind altering substances are mixed in tobacco and sold to unsuspecting youth, known as "loaded cigarette" or "banduk".

So, instead of neatly packed pouches, now Gutkha will be supplied by kilos to panwallahs. Because 10% of Rs.5000 crores is Rs.500 crores and it is not a small sum. With that kind of money you can buy or topple the corrupt governments. Already there is a talk that in Tamil Nadu, the Gutkha lobby has "impressed" upon Dr. Jayalalitha to "review the draconian ban". Is that the reason why the Government of Maharashtra has also set 5 years limit to review? So that Gutkha lobby can make fat contributions to political parties and "influence" their decision to rescind their ban order?

It is also time, that mushrooming licensed country liquor bars are shut and the lethal brew that is distilled in slums and sold among the poor is also banned. Smoking in the open, like people smoking in restaurants, hospitals, etc. should also be dealt with the same severity. But I have seen police inspectors, magistrates, collectors and teachers smoking merrily, least aware that it is the side smoke, which has 500 chemicals in it, and which is deleterious to the health of the person standing next to the smoker. More than the smoke, it is the passive smoke that kills and pollutes our environment.

While on this subject of Gutkha ban, will someone give an award to S.B.Arts, who created a highly effective propaganda? It announced following awards to Gutkha chewers . It said :

EAT GUTKHA AND WIN FABULOUS PRIZES Firrst prize - falling teeth, cough Second prize - shrunken cheeks Third prize - frozen face Fourth prize - early ageing Fifth prize - kidney disorders Sixth prize - cancer Seventh prize - early death

Awards place : Burial Ground Chief Guest : Yamaraj

Forms can be obtained from every Paanwala for a fee ranging from Re.1 to Rs.6".

It is too early to celebrate the Gutkha ban. We need to wait and watch for eternal vigilance is the sine qua non of a good democracy. Parents, NGOs, teachers, doctors, officials, be vigilant, for at stake is our future generation.

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