The psycho-active substances badly affect key enzymes and hormones in the body

Next time when you feel like chewing tobacco, say ‘gutka’ or ‘pan masala’, just think for a while.

The habit will not only eat away your vital parts of your body but will also make you an offender as the State Government has banned chewable tobacco production, possession, distribution and its sale in Assembly on May 8.

While doctors and public health experts have welcomed the ban in view of rising number of oral cancer cases, the official machinery will launch a crackdown after a G.O. is issued anytime from now.

Chewable tobacco, being an edible product, the imposition of ban will be exercised under the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006.

The Indian Public Health Association (IPHA) feels that the ban is better late than never because of the intensity of the damage in users.

“It is time smokers realised the dangers of tobacco, especially in the chewing form. Thirty per cent of tobacco-related deaths is because of direct consumption of gutka and pan masala,” says S. Elango, IPHA State President and former Director of Public Health.

Oncologists are hopeful that the ban will bring down number of cancer cases in future. They call for a greater vigilance in urban and rural areas by agencies, including police, health and food safety departments.

S.S. Sundaram, Head of Department of Surgical Oncology, Government Rajaji Hospital, said the ban would ensure positive results.

“Many people do not know chewable tobacco leads to oral cancer. This is more dangerous than the cancer caused by cigarette smoking,” he cautioned. This view is echoed by a few other leading oncologists who are worried about the growing number of cancer cases.

According to K.S. Kirushna Kumar, Head, Department of Radiation Oncology, Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre, young people in the age group of 30 to 40 years are falling prey to gutka and pan masala as they are not aware of the long-term implications.

“My observation is that this habit is more prevalent among lower middle class and poor people. There have been cases where tongue had to be fully removed due to the severity of oral cancer. Imagine if you end up losing tongue and can’t speak,” he cautions.

G. Amarnath, Senior Consultant, Clinical and Radiation Oncology, Apollo Speciality Hospitals, urges youngsters to understand that gutka and pan masala are psycho-active substances which badly affects key enzymes and hormones in the body.

“They cause throat cancer, will damage oesophagus, gastro-intestinal track, stomach, pancreas and being addictive products they will affect the mind too. Nearly 20 per cent of my patients is suffering oral cancer. As chewable tobacco comes in attractive packets, youngsters are getting tempted,” he laments.

Apart from strict implementation of ban, Dr. Elango says, the State Government should levy surcharge, education cess and taxes on tobacco products so that people may hesitate to buy.

Campaign

“It is time to have a sustained campaign to educate people that chewing of tobacco will disfigure palate, mouth, tongue, gums and lips. During a survey done by IPHA in 2011, we found that people of Tamil Nadu are acquiring chewable tobacco habit from workers of the northern states coming here. Anyway, now we are very hopeful that oral cancer cases will come down in next five years due to the ban,” he expresses confidence.

Dr. Elango cites the examples of France, Thailand and Indonesia where cigarette sales had come down drastically because of higher taxes.

Treatment cost

Dr. Kirushna Kumar says that the cost of treatment is another important factor to be borne in mind as people have to shell away at least Rs.3.5 lakh for oral cancer treatment. Dr.Sundaram says prevention is better than cure since oral cancer figures in the top five forms of cancer and young adults becoming patients at their prime age.

The Madurai Corporation too is on its part ready to implement the ban by extending support to the Food Safety Wing.“We will swing into action once the G.O is issued. Inspections will be done at places in Madurai to seize gutkha and pan masala,” assures Yasodha Mani, City Health Officer.

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