13 july 2012
Mumbai: An analysis of smokeless tobacco such as gutka and paan masala done a few years back showed the shocking presence of cancer–causing agents such N–nitrosoanabasine and N–nitrosonornicotine. Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and selenium too were found. The message that health experts give has been clear for over a decade now: Gutka causes cancer.
On the face of it, the colour sachets of gutka and paan masala cost Rs 3–10. But experts say the human cost, in terms of suffering and crores of deaths caused by their consumption, is huge; the thousands of crores spent on the treatment of diseases caused by these products outweighs the revenue the government earns from their sale.
"As per the global adult tobacco survey in October 2010, 1.7 crore Maharashtrians above 18 were consuming smokeless tobacco," said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, a senior doctor with Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel, who has been in the forefront of the anti–tobacco ban. If one extrapolates to the World Health Organization criteria that every second tobacco user dies prematurely, there could be millions of Maharashtrians dying prematurely because of smokeless tobacco. "All these deaths will happen because of cancer, heart attack, lung diseases, etc. We can safely say that over 85 lakh people will die prematurely because of smokeless tobacco," said Dr Chaturvedi.
But experts have also been focusing on how the gutka habit skews health economics. "The revenue from gutka is a measly Rs100 crore, according to minister of state for home Satej Patil, but it will save crores that would otherwise be spent in treating the diseases," said the doctor. He estimates that over Rs600 crore that would be spent on treating patients could be saved.
There’s also the hope that millions of youth will not get addicted to the products. "Over 5,500 children taste gutka or paan masala every day. The ban will save many from getting addicted," said Devika Chadha of the Salaam Bombay Trust.