Pan masala and gutka may be off the shelves in shops, but the banned tobacco products continue to be sold clandestinely to regular customers.

Despite a government order issued a month ago banning the manufacture, storage, distribution and sale of gutka and pan masala, sales continue unabated across the city.

Proprietors of petty shops and tea stalls in various parts of Chennai, including Perambur, Pulianthope, Royapettah and Kodungaiyur said they had stopped getting gutka and pan masala after the government issued a blanket ban on chewable tobacco in May.

But many of them still secretly stock the products. A few shops in Elephant Gate also sold ‘Hans’, another form of chewable tobacco.

‘Only for regulars’

“I have a stock of various brands of pan masala and gutka but I do not sell it to strangers. Who knows, one of them could be part of an official inspection team,” said a shopkeeper in Vyasarpadi.

He said traders have asked the Food Safety department for time until the existing stock of pan masala and gutka could be sold.

Rise in price

A number of shopkeepers said the cost of both pan masala and gutka had increased over the last few days. Most of these products are manufactured in Uttar Pradesh.

“There has been a steep rise in the prices of different-sized pan masala and gutka sachets. For instance, what was sold for Rs. 4 is now Rs. 10 and what cost Rs. 12 is Rs. 35 now. Wholesale distributors are giving us the stock at different prices each day. For instance, I paid Rs. 400 for a bundle which would have earlier cost me Rs. 100. But I keep buying it as it is more profitable than selling cigarettes,” said a shopkeeper near Pulianthope.

He said a large number of women bought the tobacco products from his shop.

Main users: women

Oncologists said smokeless tobacco products were one of the primary etiological causes of oral cancer and were being sold in large numbers despite the ban.

“According to the global adult tobacco survey India 2009-2010, eight per cent of the Tamil Nadu population uses gutka and pan masala.

Women are the predominant users of smokeless tobacco,” said Arvind Krishnamurthy, additional professor of surgical oncology, Cancer Institute, Adyar.

Officials of the Food Safety and Drug Administration department said the one month given to shopkeepers had come to an end. “Our teams will soon conduct checks at shops and take necessary action,” an official said. The department has a helpline for complaints from the public – 94440 42322.

When this reporter called the helpline, the officer in-charge said the helpline received around 10 complaints daily, including on the sale of the banned tobacco products.

“Earlier, we used to get complaints regarding the poor quality of soft drinks and food at restaurants. Now, we get calls on the sales of gutka and pan masala. We forward the complaints to the respective district-level designated officers,” he said.

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