Joining several other States, Tamil Nadu on Wednesday announced a ban on gutka and pan masala.

The ban on the manufacture, storage and sale of the carcinogenic chewable forms of tobacco led a host of announcements Chief Minister Jayalalithaa made in the Assembly pertaining to the health sector.

The State Tobacco Control Cell had submitted a proposal for such a ban last year. An attempt was made to ban gutka and pan masala as early as in 2001, but the measure was bogged down in litigation. The government had then invoked the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act for notifying a five-year ban, but the Supreme Court ruled that only the Centre had the power to issue such notifications under that law.

However, what makes the present ban legally tenable is that it relies on the Food Safety and Standards Act, which has provisions to prevent tobacco and nicotine from being used as ingredients in any food product. The State Food Safety Wing and the Tobacco Control Cell are likely to implement the ban, say officials.

Madhya Pradesh was the first to ban gutka and pan masala after the rules and regulations under the Food Safety and Standards Act were notified. Kerala, Gujarat and Mizoram followed soon. West Bengal joined the group very recently.

In other measures, Ms. Jayalalithaa said molecular virology laboratories would be set up in medical college hospitals. The Madras, Madurai, Coimbatore, and Tirunelveli Medical Colleges would get one each at a cost of Rs. two crore. At present, King Institute, Chennai, is the sole testing facility for confirming serotypes that cause dengue, chikungunya and swine flu.

She also announced steps to boost Indian systems of medicine. These included a Rs. 15-crore allocation for improving infrastructure in government colleges for Indian medicine systems and ample funds for improving infrastructure and human resources at the Government Arignar Anna Siddha Hospital here.