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India: states ban oral tobacco
  1. David Simpson

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    Gutkha and paan masala, two oral products used with or without tobacco, were banned from 1 August 2002 in Maharashtra state, where even school and college students are increasingly becoming users. The ban covers the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale, and advertising. A 1997 survey in the capital Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) found that 10–40% of school children and 70% of college students used the products.

    Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the move concern how it was made. First, no new law has been passed: the ban was made following a state Cabinet decision, by simply issuing an order under “enabling” legislation, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. Second, it is widely rumoured that Mr Sharad Pawar, leader of the ruling political party, was diagnosed and treated for oral cancer due to gutkha use just a few days before the Cabinet decision.

    Many are doubtful about the potential effectiveness of the Maharashtra ban, as there are few officials to enforce it and at present users and illegal traders can cross into neighbouring Madhya Pradesh or Gujarat states to get it. In addition, a ban on the sale of gutkha within 100 metres of educational institutions and government owned offices in Mumbai has not been enforced. However, the net is tightening, with Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh passing their own, similar bans, and the Rajasthan cabinet has decided in principle to ban gutkha. In addition, the high courts in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have also ordered bans, although in each case, implementation has been stayed by the Supreme Court on procedural grounds. Oral tobacco is estimated to cause over 160 000 new oral cancer cases in India every year.

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