Gutka consumers now turn to ‘desi paan’ to get their daily fix
Even as those ubiquitous festoons of gutka sachets hanging at roadside shops have begun disappearing after they were banned by the State government last week, many consumers of smokeless tobacco in the city appear to have switched to what their grandparents used to chew.
The demand for “desi paan”, a simple combination of betel nut smeared with white lime, areca and, crucially, a smidgeon of tobacco, has spiked, many paan shop owners say.
Doctors caution that consumption of tobacco in any form is harmful. Smokeless tobacco consumption is more injurious to health than smoking as chewing of tobacco directly affects the oral cavity and enters into the system.
Hansraj Singh, a paan shop owner on Infantry Road, said that he would not risk stocking gutka now. He added that he would stop selling all smokeless tobacco products in the wake of the ban. However, he said that many addicts had migrated to “desi paan” and other traditional paan because gutka is either not available or is being sold in black.
While many shop owners claim that they have exhausted their stock, some shops were indeed still found selling gutka, but with only a few brands with no fresh stocks coming in.
M. Madan Gopal, Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare), said that it would take a couple of days for the department to enforce the gutka ban effectively.
“We have issued guidelines on enforcement and today, our officials have started raids. They have seized stocks from different parts of the State. It is just a beginning and we will soon crack down on the sale of gutka in all forms,” he said.
In some areas, the police have warned paan shop owners not to stock or sell gutka, shop owners told The Hindu.
Not that this has cured addicts of their cravings. “It is difficult now to procure gutka since most shops have run out of the stock. I need a particular brand, which is not available in the market, so I have shifted to another,” said Ram Gogio, who works on M.G. Road.
“Many people whom I know have shifted to ‘desi paan’,” he added.
This was confirmed by Kamal Singh who said that he had stopped buying gutka as it has become very expensive after the ban. “I have shifted to ‘desi paan’, which is cheaper.”
The ban has come as a relief for gutka consumers like Shabeer Ahmed, a pet shop owner in Shivajinagar, who has decided to quit altogether. “The government’s decision to ban gutka encouraged me to stop consuming it. I am sure many may have quit like me,” he said.
Price hike likely?
Meanwhile, paan shop owners believe that the prices of betel leaves, nuts and other ingredients are likely to go up in the light of gutka ban, following which many have started consuming “desi paan” and other regular paan. “Many paan shop owners are likely to increase the price of paan to offset their loss after the gutka ban. We are seeing an increase in the number of consumers of ‘desi paan’,” said Subash, a paan shop owner in Shivajinagar.