The ban on sale of chewable tobacco of various kinds has led to dealers coming up with a variety of ways of circulating and transporting these substances on the sly. Food safety officers are now studying their methods in order to break these cartels.

Among the lesser known substances are mawa and kaini, both of which are sold discreetly on the streets. Dealers employ different methods to sell these banned products. Some shops distribute tokens to regular customers. Another method is to bring the gutka, tobacco and paan masala separately and then mix them when customers ask for it.

Food safety officers said they are watching the movement of these products. Recently, at Vellore, a SUV with a large consignment of the banned substance was apprehended. Now, a committee comprising commercial tax officers, the RTO and the police has been formed to effectively conduct raids. “Vellore is a transport hub for these substances. We are also studying the various methods used to sell these substances but we cannot miss the big fish,” says A. Jagannathan, designated officer for Kancheepuram.

Equally insidious is the sale of such banned products through the internet. E. Vidhubala, who works on tobacco cessation at Cancer Institute, Adyar, said the product is advertised on the internet as ‘new generation gutka’ which comes in small tea bag-sized pouches, each containing 10 cases. Efforts to reach the mobile phone and telephone numbers listed on the website proved futile.

The World Health Organisation’s 2009-10 sample study shows that more people use gutka with areca nut. But those who use kaini and mawa or plain tobacco also form a sizable number. Around 17.2 per cent of men and 14.3 per cent of women consume products with gutka, betel, areca nut and tobacco.

The State has, since 2008, collected over Rs. 92 lakh as fines and the Southern Railway and the airport authorities have collected sizable amounts. Yet, there is little information on how the funds have been used, pointed out Dr. Vidhubala. “At present, over 16.2 per cent of the population chew and smoke tobacco and 8.1 per cent consume the smokeless form. This segment should be below 5 per cent and for that, we must focus on intervention,” she added.

She suggested adopting the Simla formula of opening a bank account and using the collected funds for tobacco control activity including conducting raids and developing informational and educational programmes.

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