3 September 2012, Mumbai: Meet Rajkamal Prajapati, aged 28, who was doing a job and studying for his B.Ed. Married, with two young daughters, Rajkamal was living in a little-known town called Orai in Jalaun district, UP, until cancer turned his world upside down. Currently, Rajkamal is in Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital, where large parts of his tongue and tonsils were removed on 26th August 2012. Now he faces the challenges of coping with radiation therapy and relearning to talk again. It’s a steep price to pay for having chewed gutka and smoked cigarettes for only three years!
Unlike Rajkamal, Ramesh Chowdhury, a 65-year old daily-wage earner in Kolkata, had been eating khaini and smoking bidis for about four decades; his wife Savita took it as a part of life from the time she married him. He was recently diagnosed with cancer of the voicebox. Two weeks ago, a panic-stricken Savita rushed her husband to Mumbai by train, as he was barely able to breathe. On 27th August, the surgeons at Tata Memorial removed his voicebox. Ramesh now breathes from a hole in his throat, and stares at a bleak future.
Savita and Rajkamal have written letters to their chief ministers — Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav — urging them to immediately ban tobacco. Scores of tobacco victims are writing to their chief ministers and parliamentarians, encouraged by Voice of Tobacco Victims, which is a nationwide network of cancer surgeons, hospitals and NGOs.
Some cancer surgeons are tired of spending their lives removing tongues, jaws, throats, voiceboxes and chest parts of tobacco addicts – creating a physically and socially handicapped person — while a profit-minded tobacco industry continues to supply the toxins that made them that way. They find it difficult to stomach the fact that while saving lives through amputations, they create thousands of crippled and dependent persons.
The surgeons are finding it difficult to quietly live with the fact that oral cancer is the biggest killer of men, accounting for 42% of all male cancer-related deaths in the country, and 18.5% of female cancer-related deaths. These percentages translate to 84,000 deaths in men and 36,000 in women from tobacco-related cancers in both urban and rural areas, according to a research paper published by leading Indian surgeons in May 2012 in The Lancet, a leading medical journal. Debunking the myth that “smokeless tobacco” is a less-harmful alternative to cigarette smoking, the study states that there are twice as many deaths from oral cancer as lung cancer.
And, since oral cancer is only one of the many killer diseases that tobacco-chewing addicts suffer from, the statistics of tobacco-related deaths and disabilities are actually many multiples of the above-mentioned death toll.
About 19,000 persons died in the Bhopal gas tragedy. Tobacco-related deaths dwarf this fugure. It is a shocking fact that gutka, pan masala and such other products create the equivalent to one Bhopal gas tragedy every couple of months, or one major air-crash every day. Far from the beautiful people like Malaika Arora and Sanjay Dutt who lend their faces to such products, what surgeons see is dead and dying people, or people whose jaw, tongue or cheeks have to be amputated to save their lives.
There is now a network of 47 medical professionals all over India who are committed to seeing that gutka, pan masala and other toxic products are taken off the streets and relegated to the history books and museums. Here are their contact details: http://tiny.cc/Anti-Tobacco-Surgeons
More pictures of gutka through the eyes of cancer surgeons: http://tiny.cc/Cancer-surgeons-gutka
Cancer surgeons are now pouring their energy into campaigning for getting their states to ban such products. They are getting results. In a rare display of political will, 11 states and a Union Territory recently banned gutka and other chewing tobacco products. These are Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Punjab, and the union territory of Chandigarh. The Delhi administration too committed to Delhi High Court that it will take a proper decision within a few days.
Read some ban orders: http://tiny.cc/State-Tobacco-Bans
THE LEGAL BASIS OF THE BAN ON CHEWABLE TOBACCO
- Point 2.3.4 of the notification issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) on 1st August, 2011 says, “Product not to contain any substance which may be injurious to health: Tobacco and nicotine shall not be used as ingredients in any food products.” Hence all smokeless tobacco products such as gutka, khaini, etc stand banned. This is as per Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, and under the authority of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Ministry of Health.
- The report submitted by the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW) to the Supreme Court gives evidence of various fatal diseases caused in millions of people in India by the deceptively named “smokeless tobacco”. These diseases can only be controlled by prohibiting the sale of such products. Read this report: http://tiny.cc/Report-NIHFW-SC
- The gutka and pan masala manufacturers are trying to escape this ban by arguing that these products are not “food” as defined under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, and therefore, the Food Safety and Standards Act is not applicable. They contend that Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 – known as COTPA – is applicable, and therefore, gutka and pan masala may be regulated under COTPA but not banned under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. Thankfully, this tenuous argument has failed to convince the Supreme Court. In the Godawat Pan Masala Case, the Supreme Court clearly stated that: “We are… unable to agree with the contention that pan masala or gutka does not amount to “food” within the meaning of definition in Section 2(v) of the Act.” Thus it is settled law that Gutka and Pan Masala are food products.
- Of course, manufacturers and distributors of “smokeless tobacco products” may approach the judiciary to fight a last-gasp battle. However, unless and until they get a stay order from the relevant High Court, Regulation 2.3.4. is the law of the land. This means that the Food & Drugs Authority of every state is mandated to implement the ban at the earliest.
In addition to the force of law, there is the great power of moral conviction. 56 Members of Parliaments, Chief Ministers, Governors and other high-profile decision-makers have signed the pledge to curb the use of chewing tobacco, to ensure that unwary people like Rajkamal Prajapati and Ramesh Chowdhury stop becoming mutilated victims. Check it out: http://tiny.cc/Anti-Tobacco-Pledges
HI-RES PHOTOS FOR PUBLISHING CAN BE DOWNLOADED FROM:
FOR MORE DETAILS, CONTACT Ashima Sarin, Project Director – VoTV – +91-8860786604