of gutka, pan masala in pouches from March 2011
In a major setback for manufacturers of gutka (chewing tobacco)
and pan masala, the Supreme Court Tuesday imposed a ban, from
March 2011, on these products' sale in plastic sachets. Asking the
manufacturers to explore and decide by
On a lazy afternoon in the Delhi University area, 19-year-old
Naresh Singh is whiling away his break at a cigarette shop. As he
leisurely chews on some gutka, he breaks into a laugh on being
told that gutka sale in plastic sachets is banned.
"Is it a joke? That is not possible, I just bought a regular
plastic sachet of gutka from this shop," Naresh says, pointing
towards the generous cache of sachets.
Days after the implementation of a Supreme Court ban on sale of
tobacco products like gutka and pan masala in plastic sachets,
consumers and vendors seem to be indifferent.
"It just looks normal to buy it even after the ban. There was no
public announcement; neither did the shopkeeper point it out,"
Naresh tells IANS as he tosses the non-biodegradable sachet in the
The apex court passed the order while hearing a petition by the
tobacco manufacturers challenging the Rajasthan High Court's 2007
order banning the sale of chewing tobacco and pan masala in
plastic sachets. The ban came into effect March 1, 2011.
While hearing the appeal, the solicitor general admitted that 86
percent of oral cancer cases in the world originate from India and
of these, 90 percent are on account of chewing tobacco products.
M.S. Gupta, an employee at a store selling gutka in south Delhi,
said: "We will continue to sell the stock that has been
manufactured and supplied till Feb 28. That cannot be helped."
"We sell a minimum of 60 sachets every day. So the dealers supply
stock according to our sales," added Gupta.
However, environmental activists call it a "multi-layered" ban and
say it has a long way to go in terms of implementation.
"This ban is keeping in view the environmental hazards of plastic
sachets, and is not something that comes straight against the
gutka industry. The ban does not say that tobacco will not be sold
at all," Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director of Voluntary
Health Association of India (VHAI), told IANS.
"It is a welcome step, but only from the environmental
perspective. I don't see the ban bringing about any change in the
health problems caused by tobacco," added Mukhopadhyay.
However, Bharti Chaturvedi, director of voluntary environmental
research and action group Chintan, calls the ban a "muddled up
judgment" as it is "neither of full help to the anti-tobacco
lobby, nor is it going to help the environmentalists completely".
"However, it can help if there is focus on its implementation,"
says Chaturvedi, a member of the plastic report team that
presented its report to the apex court before the judgment.
She says that "smokeless tobacco, priced between Rs.1 and Rs.7,
has wide reach in small segments of society. The local bodies
should call the manufacturers, come up with a deadline to stop the
supply of plastic sachet gutkha, and take it back from collection
Mukhopadhyay feels "the government and the court need to crack
down heavily on the industry directly".
"They need to have stringent restrictions on surrogate advertising
of tobacco, the labels and open advertisement and even focus on
awareness creation," he said.
The last word of caution comes from health experts who believe
that smokeless tobacco has made India the "oral cancer capital of
"The ban would not be of much help even if you increase the cost
of gutka as the product is locally manufactured. And now we are
seeing patients from rural areas who have serious problem of oral
fibrosis," says P.K. Julka, surgical oncologist at the All India
Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
"Lack of awareness is what we are noticing as the major loophole
in any ban related to smoking or tobacco for that matter," added
(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at email@example.com)