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Multiple-state gutka ban has led to black market for frequent consumers
India is the oral cancer capital of the world, and about 8000 new cases of oral cancer are registered every year. About sixty five million people in India use gutka - the major cause of oral cancer. But India is making progress in curbing oral cancer after fifteen states banned manufacture and sale of gutka. Is the ban on gutka really working? During her investigation, this citizen journalist spoke with state officials and anti-tobacco activists, and found that while the ban was creating an impact, it had created a black market for hard-core users and forced manufacturers to export from alternate locations like Uttar Pradesh to cater to demand.

THE GUTKA industy, which was a Rs. 30,000-crore industry, is coming apart under the weight of the ban in several states. While Madhya Pradesh was the first state to ban gutka, and was followed by Kerala and Bihar, today the ban has changed the dynamics of gutka usage in the country - re-configuring patterns of users and supply of packaged gutka - enabling the country to bring down cases of oral cancer.

Ashwini Kumar, Madhya Pradesh Food Commissioner told this Citizen Journalist , “There are two types of gutka consumers, the first type are real hard core consumers while the second type are casual consumers such as kids, adolescents and women. This ban on gutka has has brought down the access to gutka for consumers, and now you get gutka only in the black market. So, it is difficult for the casual consumer to easily buy it. As a result, about 80-85 percent of the huge junk of casual consumers has stopped consuming it.”

Mr. Kumar said that manufacturers, despite the ban, are catering to regular users of gutka, which contains 3000 harmful chemicals, and even children are getting addicted to it. “Still, the hardcore consumers get it through the black market. But there is an economic factor that is effecting them, as gutka is now costlier, which is affecting its demand."

Officials and anti-tobacco activists say that as large number of states have banned sale and manufacture of gutka, the cumulative effect of the ban is beginning to be felt. Chandigarh and Kerala were the first to ban pan masala and gutaka under the Food Safety and Standards (prohibition and restriction on sales) regulation 2011. Several other states followed with Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Goa, also enforcing the ban.

Manufacturers and retailers based in Delhi say that they have shifted their business from gutka distribution to other businesses after the implementation of the ban on gutka. Suresh Gupta one of the partners in Rakesh Kumar Mukesh Kumar Gutka Distribution company based in Delhi told this citizen journalist, “I have closed my Gutka distribution business after the ban, and now I have shifted to tea distribution business.”

On January 1, 2013, Odisha became the 15th state in the country to ban gutka. In Odisha more than 43 percent of the population consume gutka and 35 per cent of women have also developed this habit, reported a Global Adult Survey on Tobacco. Jitendra Sahu, an anti-tobacco activist with Nasha Mukti Yuva Sankalp (NMYS), based in Odisha, said "The ban on gutka needs one more month for implementation, as this one month is the notice period for the gutka manufacturers.” He also said that NMYS is spreading awareness against gutka among people in Odisha by going to schools and conducting awareness programs, and by doing street plays near slums.

Past manufacturers and officials say that Uttar Pradesh, where presently there is no ban on gutka, is to be blamed as a base for gutka manufacturing, and unless the proposed ban, scheduled to be implemented from April 1, 2013, is not implemented strongly in the state, the black market for gutka will exist to service demand for regular users in the country. Uttar Pradesh is the largest producer of gutka in India. It is now smuggling gutka to neighboring states, where gutka is banned.

Already, despite the threat of the ban in UP, and the existing ban in other states, manufactuers are making alternate plans to continue manufacture and sale of gutka. S.K. Gupta, Manging Director of Sanchita Overseas, a manufacturing company in Kanpur, said, “There is no effect of the ban (in other 15 states) on our business. We will continue our business, but due to the ban we have shifted our manufacturing unit from Kanpur to Nepal. We manufacture gutka there and export it to Gulf and European countries.”

Gutka smuggling from Uttar Pradesh is encouraging the black marketing of gutka and is making the ban in other states less effective in the neighboring states. But people's support at grass-roots is a heartening development. Some villages in Uttar Pradesh have literally burned the gutka packets, after panchayat heads came down strongly on gutka usage. In fact, a village has came up with a new rule, and a person who sells gutka is fined Rs 1000, and the one who consumes it is fined Rs 500.

The government at the Centre and states, along with relevant ministries will have to closely monitor the after-effect of the ban, address policy and implementation looholes, and cut-off all modes of supply to rid the country of gutka manufacturing, which will greatly bring down cases of oral cancer in the country.

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