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Home News and Update Year 2011 Doctors go to War Gutka Under Fire

Doctors go to War Gutka Under Fire

Times of India
19 February 2011
By Sumitra Deb Roy

Leaders in oncology from across the country have for the first time come together to join the war against smokeless tobacco, believed to be behind 96% of oral cancer cases in India.

The heads of 17 regional cancer centres, including the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC), have urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ban smokeless tobacco products. In letters to him and the health ministry, the centres bemoan the government’s lack of urgency in banning tobacco products, despite strong scientific evidence that they cause cancer.

Doctors go to War Gutka Under Fire
The director of the TMC, Dr Rajendra Badwe, said in his letter that the war on cancer cannot be won unless the menace of gutka and pan masala is eradicated. "These products are leading to unnecessary premature deaths in the country."

The director of the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata, Dr Jaydip Biswas, told TOI the government has to act immediately to control the situation. "I have emphasized on the point that the government can suitably rehabilitate those engaged in tobacco farming, if that is the reason for not banning the substance.

It is high time the government acknowledges the threat to the population. Men are falling prey to oral and lung cancer, particularly in the eastern parts of the country."

The doctors have come together around the time the expert team formed by the health ministry to compile national and international reports on the ill–effects of smokeless tobacco submitted its study to the Supreme Court.

A source said the team (comprising experts from the Public Health Foundation of India and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, besides the TMC) has given a damning report, a portion of which highlights how various commercial preparations of gutka and pan masala in India contain very high levels of arsenic, copper, lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel.

"These metals are capable of causing serious diseases, as they are toxic even in minute quantities," the report says, detailing how the consumption of smokeless tobacco also causes heart disease, reproductive problems and psychological disorders.

The report, submitted on Friday, also voices concern about the popularity of gutka and pan masala among schoolchildren, calling it a huge public health issue.

Activists say the developments are the high point of the war against tobacco in India. A senior surgeon from the TMH said: "It needs to be seen whether or not the government puts human life before revenue (earned by taxing the tobacco industry)."

Survivors of cancer join forces
From a cancer survivor to an antitobacco crusader, it has been a life–changing journey for automobile dealer Suresh Bakshi. The journey started soon after he was diagnosed with mouth cancer. His recent brush with callous politicians in New Delhi, where he had gone to explain them the threat of smokeless tobacco, has only added to his zeal.

Bakshi, who represents Voice of Victims, said: "I still make it a point to stop at least two children every day and tell them what tobacco can do." Over five million children under 15 in India are addicted to gutka.

Scores of cancer survivors across the country have joined Bakshi’s platform. One of them, part of a delegation that met leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj and minister of state for health and family welfare Dinesh Trivedi, said: "It is clear that the government is aware of the hazards posed by tobacco. It needs to be seen how proactive they are in banning it."

Bakshi said: "We (cancer survivors) have seen the worst side of tobacco consumption. We hope the government understands us better."

Silent Killer | Tobacco Kills 1 Person Every 8 Seconds in the Country
  • Tobacco is responsible for 96% of oral cancer cases in the country
  • Smokeless tobacco, which comes as gutka, is very addictive and has a quit rate of only 5%
  • Besides being the leading cause of oral cancer, smokeless tobacco also causes cancer of the food pipe, stomach, pancreas, larynx and lungs
  • It is also associated with hypertension, heart disease and stroke
  • A sachet of gutka contains
  • 3,095 chemicals, 28 of them carcinogens
  • Areca nut, or supari, an ingredient of gutka, is known to affect reproductive health
  • Areca nut is also associated with diabetes, metabolic disorders and obesity
274.9 million people in India use tobacco 163.7 million chew the substance 68.9 million smoke 42.3 million both chew tobacco and smoke

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