Deepak Kumar, a lifelong smoker of ITC’s Wills cigarettes, and Mohammad Azazur Rehman, who has smoked Pehelwan chaap bidis all his life, are now appreciating the brand choices and lifestyle choices that have made their lives so sweet! Both Deepak and Azazur come to Tata Memorial Hospital for quarterly checkups — a lifelong reminder that one must reluctantly live with the lifestyle choices that one willingly makes early in life! And so the duo use ITC Classmate Notebooks & ITC Classmate Stationery to track their dates at Tata Memorial. It’s a good idea to write ones wills early while smoking Wills, jokes Deepak, a former commissioner of Central Excise! Deepak now wears a fashionable scarf to cover that designer hole in the throat (it’s the Wills Classic look!), and he plans to walk the ramp at Wills Fashion Week 2013 as a model to show off his exquisite range of designer scarves & exclusive fashion accessories! He hopes to open a store sponsored by ITC Ltd, naturally. ITC Wills Lifestyle Stores, Organizers of Wills Fashion Week, hope you are listening? Mr Y C Deveshwar, Sir, surely, you will not disappoint an ardent fan of ITC brands, who makes it a point to stay at ITC Hotels whenever he travels?
Mohammed Azazur Rahman, an electrical engineer from Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, was forced to come to Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital last month. It turned out that he was a great fan of Pehelwan brand of bidis all his life, smoking 2-3 packs per day. Today, his disfiguring oral cancer is painfully evident, but he still can’t kick the habit! He smokes 4-5 Pehelwan bidis every day.
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
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.
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.
As Maharashtra struggles to curb the sale of tobacco products near schools, surveys done by the NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation throw up some disturbing statistics. 1 in 4 children at Mumbai’s municipal schools use some form of tobacco. Another survey of 200 schools, finds 61 per cent of them have tobacco shops within 100 yards of their premises. This is despite the BMC banning such sales two months ago and is in clear violation of the law. According to the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 5 million children in India under the age of 18 use some form of tobacco products.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Oncology Surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital, says, “It is known that tobacco addiction starts at the age of 12 years and 80 per cent of the pan shops in India are near schools and colleges as they know if they can influence children then they would be catering to a huge market.”
Gutka packets on average contain seven per cent magnesium carbonate, which is a chemical used in fire extinguishers, according to The Food And Drug Administration. The news is alarming as 206 million Indians use some form of smokeless tobacco.
World Health Organisation estimates that 26 per cent of adults in India, use some form of smokeless tobacco and 40 per cent of them die because of this addiction.
VoTV patrons met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on 28th November, 2011 and shared with him the grim scenario of tobacco usage and related illnesses in Maharashtra. Dr Rajendra A Badwe, Director, Tata Memorial Hospital urged the Chief Minister to act against the rampant violation of Section 6 of COTPA (prohibition of sale to Minors and within 100 yards of educational institutions). Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi and Ms Devika Chadha expressed their views on this serious public health problem.
On 11th February, 2011 Action Council Against Tobacco (ACT India), Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, Salaam Bombay Foundation and Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), facilitated Voices of Tobacco Victims (VoTV) a program conceptualized by cancer victims who gathered together from across the country, to promote greater awareness about the harmful effects of smokeless tobacco use. These victims and their families shared their stories and experiences of trauma, pain and suffering as well as voiced their appeal for stronger enforcement of tobacco control laws. The victims and their families, while sharing their painful experiences appealed to the guests to “let not what has happened to us, happen to any more people.” All of them urged the government to take stringent actions against gutka and other forms of smokeless tobacco and expressed their solidarity in the fight to save others from the menace of gutka.
The event was well attended by policy makers, tobacco control advocates; cancer support groups, media and dignitaries like Shri Sriprakash Jaiswal, Union Coal Minister and Shri Dinesh Trivedi, State Minister, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Shri K.Desiraju, Addl. Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India. Other key participants were Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi Associate Professor, Head and Neck Department Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai and Dr. Justice K. Narayana Kurup (Formerly Judge, High Court of Kerala and Ag. Chief Justice, High Court of Madras).
Dr Chaturvedi suggested the need for a dedicated day, just like World No Tobacco Day on 31st May, when Indians can raise their voice against Gutka/Pan Masala. Buoyed by Dr Chaturvedi’s suggestion, the patients decided to declare 11th February as India’s No Tobacco Day. This declaration was supported by none other than Sri Prakash Jaiswal who announced to host next No Tobacco Day in Kanpur. He invited the group to organize a similar event in his home town of Kanpur and offered to take a personal interest in ensuring Kanpur Gutkha Free from that date onwards. The decision was supported by Shri Dinesh Trivedi , Minister of Health for State and Shri K. Desiraju, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The media reported this declaration widely. Visit the link to read the media coverage