The Supreme Court order on Wednesday seeking a compliance report from State governments about the ban on tobacco products is certain to draw a blank from Andhra Pradesh.
Ours is one among the 23 States and five Union Territories which banned the manufacture, sale and distribution of these products, following a regulation by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. The ban came into force in January this year, and began to be violated almost immediately!
The only difference it has made is to the open visibility of the products, and their price. The festoons of gutka and pan masala sachets earlier hanging over the façade of myriad kiosks in the city merely went in to hiding now. In fact, the ban has only proved to be a boon for the retailers who are selling the products at higher prices on the pretext of short supply.
“Earlier, I would get the sachets at Re. 1 each if bought in bulk. Now they are being sold at arbitrary prices, some times even Rs.6 per sachet,” complains M. Krishna, a consumer. Manikchand RMD, Sagar, Goa, RR, Raj Darbar, Joda Bail and Shikar are a few brands available in the black market here. One sachet of Manikchand, with MRP at Rs. 5 apiece, is now being sold at anywhere between Rs.10 and Rs.20.
Other brands are available at prices ranging between Rs.3 and Rs.6 per sachet, and Rs.100 to Rs.120 for a package of 60.
It is interesting to note that the production activity of major brands has shifted to the States where gutka is not banned as yet. Manikchand has one facility in Bangalore, and Sagar, another brand, has its manufacturing unit in Bidar district of Karnataka where gutka is yet to be banned. A few brands arrive from Tamil Nadu too, sources inform.
“The merchandise arrives in the early morning trains hidden under bundles of clothes, and distributed stealthily,” informs one retailer from Chikkadpally. Some major brands ensure that the merchandise is dumped at one centralised location, from where retailers collect them.
Tobacco chewing products are more carcinogenic than cigarettes, as they are orally consumed, informs B.Nehru, a Radiation Oncologist from the MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Centre.
Gutka chewing has high addiction rate among young people from poorer sections, as the products are much cheaper than cigarettes. Even adolescents, boys as well as girls, are no exception.
The present ban is imposed under the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulations, 2011 and the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. Food Safety Commissioner should work in tandem with various departments such as police, health, commercial taxes, vigilance, transport and municipal administration to enforce the ban completely.