Karnataka is among six States in the country that have not banned the carcinogenic product
When Durgaiah (55) of Ramanagaram came to Bangalore, he was suffering from advanced oral cancer. Post-surgery, he lost his voice entirely. A prosthetic voice box cost him Rs. 20,000, and since then he has been using his new-found voice to spread awareness about the ill-effects of gutka consumption.
“Back in my village, even young boys eat gutka, and I decided that I must tell people about its dangers, so they don’t have to go through the pain and agony I did, “Mr. Durgaiah said, speaking on the sidelines of a media interaction organised by the Indian Dental Association (IDA) and Indian Medical Association (IMA). He is the face of their campaign that demands ban on the production, marketing and sale of gutka in Karnataka, the only south Indian State that has not banned this carcinogenic product.
Despite a Union Health Ministry directive to ban gutka, and a Supreme Court verdict on the issue, Karnataka is among the six States that have desisted from banning the product. Over the past six months, 20 States have enforced a complete ban on it. In fact, neighbouring States have written repeatedly to Karnataka pointing out that the continuing production here is negating the effect of the ban here. On Thursday, members of the IMA and IDA submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar urging an immediate ban. “What is lacking here is political will. This is a huge public health issue and has to be dealt with,” said K. Mohandas Bhandary, central working committee member of the IMA. He pointed out that gutka is classified as a food product and several court verdicts have ruled that food products with tobacco content must be banned.
Besides, he said gutka mainly comprises around 4,000 chemicals, of which 70 to 100 are carcinogenic. “These include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzopyrene, radioactive plutonium. Though these are trace elements, many studies have recorded that it is beyond what is permitted.”
When asked about the fact that arecanut farmers have been opposing a blanket ban, doctors said that there are “industry and businessmen lobbies behind them.” There is ample evidence to prove that arecanut farmers will not be impacted by such a ban because in reality gutka contains very little arecanut, they said.
In fact, Dr. Bhandary maintained, many varieties of gutka contain no arecanut.
U.T. Khader, MLA from Ullal, where arecanut is cultivated said that the campaign by farmers was led by some vested interests. “As a farmer I know that there will be no impact on livelihoods if this dangerous product is banned. The government should move fast to ban this,” he said. Doctors pointed out that arecanut cultivation is big in Kerala too, where it has been banned.