Over 1,000 kg of chewable tobacco products stored clandestinely in various houses in Ayanavaram and Vadapalani were seized on Thursday.
A massive raid conducted by the food safety department, with assistance from the Chennai Corporation and the police, led to the seizure of gutka and pan masala, which are banned, carcinogenic products.
Since the ban came into effect in May, the food safety department has cracked down on business units that sell the products. To circumvent this, wholesalers began storing products in residential properties, officials said.
On Thursday evening, 1,060 kg of the products were destroyed at the Kodungaiyur dumping yard. However, so far, no legal action has been taken against the wholesalers.
Officials said the screening of retail and wholesale shops will continue, but four teams of 25 officials each have also been asked to search houses connected to those in the business. “We are now educating food business operators, including 56 wholesalers in Chennai district. The raids will continue daily,” said S. Lakshmi Narayanan, designated officer of the department.
A chunk of the wholesale dealers operate from Sowcarpet and T. Nagar. An official on one of the teams said that while retailers have taken the products off their shelves, they continue to sell them clandestinely. “We have to educate proprietors at all such outlets,” he said.
Since the ban is only for products that contain tobacco, officials said businesses that sold pan masala or gutka could get their products tested in accredited laboratories. If the products did not contain tobacco, they could be sold. “Pan masala mixed with tobacco or nicotine is banned. The regular kind can be sold,” said Dr. Narayanan.
The State government banned the manufacture, storage, distribution and sale of carcinogenic chewable forms of tobacco based on a proposal submitted by the State Tobacco Control Cell.
The present ban is legally tenable as it relies on the Food Safety and Standards Act, which has provisions to prevent tobacco and nicotine from being used as ingredients in food.