Chewing tobacco, like gutka and paan masala, has been included
among banned "food products" in the government's new food safety
guidelines. The move has been welcomed by health activists.
Coming close on the heels of the ban on the usage of plastic
pouches to package chewing tobacco and pan masala, the Food Safety
and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) under the health ministry
issued a notification prohibiting tobacco to be used as an
ingredient in any food product.
The food safety notification which was announced in early August
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 product."
Clearing the air about terming tobacco as a food product, V.N.
Gaur, director of FSSAI, said that chewing tobacco, like gutka or
pan masala, can be called as food because they are consumed like
any other food product.
"It (tobacco product) is a food product. Anything that is consumed
is called food and anything that is food and contains nicotine or
tobacco must be banned," Gaur said.
That gutka and pan masala can be termed as food product was also
affirmed by the Supreme Court. In the Ghodawat Pan Masala case,
the apex court said: "Since pan masala, gutka or supari are eaten
for taste and nourishment, they are all food within the meaning of
Section 2(v) of the Act."
Welcoming the step, health activists said that the guidelines will
act as a deterrent to the "non-smoking tobacco industry".
"The current notification which defines tobacco as food and bans
it is a welcome step. It's only logical that things like gutka or
pan masala which can be chewed and digested like any other food
item is termed as food," Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director
of the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), told IANS.
This, she added, could deal a blow to the Rs.8,000 crore worth
gutka industry in India.
Added Rajeev Sharma, a health activist who mobilises youth groups
to campaign against smoking: "The notification is definitely a
good step. But for it to really mean anything, the government
should ensure a strong and effective implementation".
Mukhopadhyay said: "The notification however should have gone one
step forward instead of just saying that tobacco should not be
used as a food ingredient. It seems to wash its hands off the
implementation bit... the government should put in place a
mechanism by which it is implemented."
One way of implementing the directive better is better awareness,
"There should be a public notice about this notification. How many
people know that the government has announced something like this?
Secondly, the government should write to the gutka industries
about this notification and tell them that they cannot add
nicotine to any food product," Mukhopadhyay said.
Mentioning an example of ineffective implementation of rules, she
said that despite the Supreme Court's order banning the sale of
chewing tobacco and other pan masala products in plastic packets,
it is openly being done so.
The order came into force March 1, 2011.
The president of Smokeless Tobacco Federation (India), Sri Gopal,
said that the industry suffered a loss of 40 percent after the ban
on plastic packages came into effect.
"Paper packaging of tobacco products has cost us a fall of 40
percent in business," Gopal said.
He however refused to acknowledge the latest notification by the
"The Tobacco product industry is not governed by the Prevention of
Food Adulteration (PFA) or the FSSAI," he said, thereby putting a
question if the notification will actually change anything or is
just a string of words on paper.
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