Directors of 17 regional cancer centres in the country have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging him to bring in a ban on smokeless tobacco products, including gutka and pan masala. India has the highest number of oral cancer patients in the world.

According to a press release issued by the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI) here, one of those to have written to Dr. Singh, between 75,000 to 80,000 new cases of oral cancer are reported every year, a figure to which tobacco-chewing contributes 90 per cent.

“The easy availability of this mixture of toxic substances, including the areca nut (supari), slaked lime and certain food additives, in small affordable pouches in every nook and corner of the country has become a serious health hazard,” the release said. Different combinations of the product — mawa, khaini, gudakhu and panni — were available in different regions.

Youth targeted

CNCI director Jaydip Biswas said the tobacco industry had been targeting the youth by selling tobacco products outside schools and colleges, distributing free samples and getting endorsements from film stars.

He said more than 1,000 new cases of patients suffering oropharyngeal cancer — many caused by chewing gutka — were reported at the institute annually, and the number of users showed an upward trend.