NB Group’s Meenaji Gutka is popular in Uttar Pradesh & Orissa, as these states haven’t yet banned gutka. Gutka brands like Meenajee, Talab, Kamla Pasand & Pan Parag are freely sold. Cancer patients landing up at Tata Memorial Hospital from UP and Orissa frequently report consuming NB Group’s Meenajee Gutkha. This gutka (ready-to-eat chewing tobacco mix) is sold in variations like Meenajee Mawa Masala, Meenajee Priya Gutkha and Meenaji Mix Gutkha. Two patients with oral cancer who came to Tata Memorial from Orissa made special mention of this brand. This is their tribute to their favourite brand, which they have lovingly consumed for many years.
3 October 2012, Mumbai: Dear Sir, In the past few days, readers of the Mumbai and Delhi editions of your esteemed dailies have been targeted by a front-page advertisement issued by the gutka manufacturers’ lobby. I would like to caution you that not only is this ad full of lies and half-truths, but also, it constitutes an in-your-face contempt of court. Through this ad, the gutka industry seeks to raise an outcry against the judgments of six High Courts, including Bombay and Delhi High Court, that have ruled in favour of the ban. Sir, are you aware that by publishing this ad, you are unwittingly made into accomplices in openly defying the judiciary? Have you considered the possibility of Contempt of Court notices being issued against your newspapers and you personally?
Let me introduce myself. I am Mrs Sumitra Pednekar, wife of Maharashtra’s former home and labour minister Satish Pednekar, who died of oral cancer last year. My husband’s illness happened because of his addiction to mawa, a mix of chewing tobacco and pan masala. In his last few months, my husband could not swallow even watery dal-khichdi. My daughters and I are still struggling to come to terms with the scars left by his extended illness and tragic demise.
This ad that you have been publishing appears to be a last-gasp effort of this industry to get popular support for an unjust and inhuman industry that has made many victims like myself. Below is our rebuttal to the untruths that the ad seeks to spread. We urge you to carry this rebuttal prominently to counter the misinformation spread by the ad:
1) This ad claims, “14 states in India believe that cigarettes are healthy”. This is patently untrue because cigarettes sold everywhere are forced to prominently carry a statutory pictorial warning that states that cigarette smoking is injurious to health. There is no state in India where cigarettes are considered “healthy”.
2) The ad argues, “Gutka with lesser tobacco is banned in 14 states, while cigarettes which have more tobacco are not.” This is a deeply flawed argument. Gutka and cigarette are governed by two different legislations. Gutka is a food product containing tobacco, and cigarettes are not a food product. The sale of gutka has been banned under the Food Safety Act 2006 and Food Safety Regulations, whereas cigarettes and bidis are not governed under this act, as they are not food products. They are governed by the provisions of COTPA (Cigarettes & Other Tobacco Products Act). The gutka manufacturers have tried hard to have it classified as “not a food”, but unfortunately for them, gutka was defined as food item by Supreme Court in the Ghodavat Pan Masala case. The license for manufacturing gutka is issued by the food ministry. So, the gutka manufacturers are trying to mislead people by equating gutka (a toxic food product) with cigarette/bidi (a harmful tobacco product that cannot be eaten). Please note, there is no ban on tobacco, which is simply an agricultural crop and a naturally occurring plant material. However, there is a ban on adding this plant material into any food meant for human ingestion, because it is toxic. Food Safety Act bans adding known toxins in food.
3) The ad claims, “One pouch of gutka contains 0.2 g of tobacco, compared to 0.63 g in one cigarette”. This statistic tries to imply that less tobacco is safer. That is incorrect. There is no safe level of tobacco consumption, and it is harmful in any quantity and in all forms. This fact is well recognized by Govt. of India, which is doing a lot to minimize its consumption in all forms.
4) The ad claims, “A cigarette has 4000 chemicals, as opposed to 3000 in smokeless tobacco”. This is a meaningless statistic thrown at half-literate people to mislead them. It has no scientific basis whatsoever.
5) The ad claims, “Unlike cigarettes, gutka is not harmful for others around you”. This is an effort to obfuscate the issue of gutka ban with the second-hand smoking issue. It implies that consuming gutka is a “victimless crime”, and that the gutka-eater is not harming anyone in society. That is untrue. When a person consuming gutka suffers from oral cancer, his entire family is the sufferer; who should know this better than I? In many cases, the cheeks, upper and lower jaws of the gutka consumer are removed. Such a person is unable to eat or speak normally, and must overcome many hurdles to function as in society and in any occupation. The spouse of the gutka addict is a victim of his consumption in economic and social terms. Every gutka addicts who contracts oral cancer creates 4-5 scarred victims created in his family, for whom life will never be the same again. There is no complete cure. Even after surgery and treatment, such people and their families live in the lifelong fear of recurrence. Tata Memorial Hospital is full of such victims, queuing up for treatment and post-surgical checkups.
6) Lastly, the ad claims, “Thousands of small gutka manufacturers are being shut down by the powerful lobby of cigarette companies”. The effort here is to paint the powerful and influential gutka lobby in the colours of a victim. It is most emphatically not a victim, but the perpetrator of a crime against humanity that is at long last being curbed. The in states gutka bans are not happening because of the cigarette lobby, but because of a central legislation, namely the Food Safety Act 2006, which is simply being implemented by the states. It is happening because the government is simply doing its mandated duty to improve the nutritional status of its citizens, by preventing adulterants and toxic substances from being added into foods.
May we once again remind you that the ban on gutka has been imposed after the High Courts of Rajasthan, MP, Bihar, Kerala, Bombay and Delhi applied their mind to the gutka manufacturers’ pleas for stay on the ban, and rejected their pleas? By challenging this ban through advertisements, the gutka manufacturers are treading on extremely dangerous territory… and so are you. In the interest of your readers, and in your own interest, we would urge you not to publish such ads.
With Best Wishes,
Sumitra Satish Pednekar
Punjab has also joined the list of States that have banned gutka as per Food Safety Standards Act 2006 and Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulation 2011. Punjab became the 11th state to announce the ban.
This is a result of advocacy by Dr. Prahlad Duggal, a Voice of Tobacco Victims (VoTV) Patron, with the Chief Minister and other policy makers. Also, Dr. Duggal got the Jathedar (Leader) of Akal Takht, Giani Gurbachan Singh Ji, to sign a pledge campaigned by VoTV to protect Punjab from the perils of tobacco chewing.
More info & media coverage:
- Message from Chief Minister of Punjab
- Pledge of Jathedar (Leader) of Akal Takht, Giani Gurbachan Singh Ji
- Zee News
- The Economic Times
- The Times of India
Dr Vijayanand Reddy with support from the Regional Cancer Centre of Hyderabad organized a VoTV event on 22nd August 2012 in Hyderabad.
Dr Kishore Mongaluru from the World Health Organization, Mr. Pravin Prakash, FDA Commissioner attended the event.
VoTV members (cancer patients) and their families shared their agony about how gutka and pan masala usage addiction had caused oral cancer and great suffering for the entire family. FDA assured support to the VOTV patrons for the gutka ban.
In a PIL filed by Doctors for You (DFY) — a partner of Voice of Tobacco Victims — against the state of Delhi for failing to ban gutkha and other chewing tobacco products. Gutkha, zarda, pan masala, gul, bajjar and such other toxic and addictive forms of chewing tobacco are mandated to be banned by various states, as per Regulation 2.3.4 of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations, 2011 made under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The court was pleased to pass an order directing the Delhi Government to implement Regulation 2.3.4 within two weeks.
The PIL was on board on August 22, 2012. Advocate Varun Chopra appeared on behalf of Doctors for You.
On July 24, 2012: The Institute of Public Health, Bangalore, in collaboration with the Voice of Tobacco Victims, the District Anti Tobacco cell (Bangalore Urban) and Government of Karnataka organized one hour program on MLA sensitization and GATS fact sheet release in the Hall of the Legislative Assembly of Karnataka. This was attended by the Chief Minister, Chairman of the Legislative Council, Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Leader of Opposition, Govt of Karnataka, Minister of Medical Education, around 30 legislators and some bureaucrats.
Dr Vishal Rao facilitated VoTV members (cancer patients) in addressing the gathering and explaining their suffering due to tobacco addiction. The stressed the need for governments to implement tobacco control policies and gutka ban to prevent deaths and suffering from tobacco use. The Chief Minister of Karnataka officially released the GATS fact sheet in presence of other dignitaries. He then addressed the gathering highlighting GATS (Global Adult Tobacco Survey) findings and reiterating his government’s commitment to advance tobacco control in the state.
Over 22 stories appeared in print media. Two TV Channels broadcasted the program live.
Chhattisgarh has now been added to the list of States banning gutka under Food Safety and Standard Regulation 2011. The order banning gutka and pan masala containing tobacco and nicotine as an ingredients was signed and issued by the State Food Commissioner on July 25, 2012.
Voluntary Health Association in collaboration with Voice of Tobacco Victims organized an MLA sensitization program in Srinagar on July 18, 2012. Hon’ble Chief Minister and the Speaker chaired the session and there were 40 legislative members. Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Oncologist from Tata Memorial Hospital, conducted a VoTV event. Seema Gupta from Voluntary Health Association of India gave presentation on issues of tobacco in J&K. The CM and Speaker assured support for tobacco control and to save lives in J&K.
VoTV and Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Voluntary Health Association organized a press conference on 11th July, 2012 at UP Press Club, Lucknow. The conference was organized to appreciate the Uttar Pradesh government for sharply hiking taxes on tobacco products. Health Minister Ahmad Hasan was present.
Ashima Sarin (Project Director, VoTV), VoTV members (Dilip Kumar, Sunil Handa), Binoy Mathew (Media Officer, VHAI), JP Sharma (Executive Director, UPVHA), Dr Sudhir Kapoor (IDA), Prof. Ramakant thanked the Government, Akhilesh Yadav, Jawed Usmani, Ahmad Hasan and others, for raising taxes on tobacco products in Uttar Pradesh.
Six states have banned gutka and other chewable tobacco products. The anti-tobacco lobby is calling it a major victory. While the country is fighting the larger battle to ban gutka, Sarfabad in Uttar Pradesh has become the third village to go tobacco free. The Panchayat there decided to ban gutka after several young people succumbed to critical diseases.
A villager, Sukhbir Singh, said, “There is a Rs 1,000 fine on anyone who sells gutka and a Rs 500 fine on anyone who eats it.”
Almost a year since the new Food Safety law banned foods with tobacco and nicotine content, six states have banned gutka, khaini and pan masala.
Madhya Pradesh took the first step followed by Kerala and Bihar. Maharashtra banned both gutka and pan masala. After Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, Haryana is expected to ban gutka soon and Goa had already banned it under the public health act.
Public health experts say it is a huge health relief, as India battles 80,000 new oral cancer cases every year.
Pankaj Chaturvedi of Tata Memorial Hospital, said, “India is the highest producer of mouth cancers. Apart from that there are several precancerous conditions like Submucous fibrosis in which the mouth of the person doesn’t open.”
Srinath Reddy of the Public Health Foundation of India said, “It’s not just the nicotine, the heavy metals are particularly dangerous and this has been found to be in high quantities in gutka.”
Till about a year ago, gutka reigned as a Rs 20,000 crore industry. But now the gutka industry is admitting to losses, and argues that gutka should not be considered as food at all.
Sanjay Bechan, Executive Director, Smokeless Tobacco Federation of India, “The industry is deteriorating once the Supreme Court banned packaging. We were reduced to almost 60 per cent of our size and now this ban by states. Since states are banning, we have suffered losses. Gutka is a scheduled tobacco product. So my legal position is very clear, I am not food, I am tobacco. It’s unscientific and undemocratic of the government to ban gutka.”
Yet, 5 million children in India are already addicted to oral tobacco and more than 5,000 start using gutka every day.