‘Gutkha Ban’ – In a country like India with a population exceeding 130 crores as of 2018, the word is a welcome respite for many while a disappointing for others. In the nation with diverse cultures, varied demographics and multi-ethnic food habits, Gutkha is one of the common items of consumption witnessed across all the masses and the genders which has come under the radar of the ban.
So, why the need to ban such a commonly and widely used commodity by the many Indian States in 2013? Has the ban been completely effective in eradicating the Gutkha usage or does it leave behind a trail of farce and unlawful practices that exist still today? This article tries to answer some of these questions by some facts and analysis.
Gutkha or Guṭka is primarily a preparation of areca nut, tobacco, catechu, paraffin wax, slaked lime and sweet or savoury flavourings. It is manufactured in India and exported to a few other countries. A mild stimulant, it is sold across South Asia in small, individual-sized packets that cost between 2 and 10 rupees per packet. [Source: Wikipedia]. Gutkha consumption can start at a very young age and being addictive, in the long run, it can have harmful effects on health.
The Gutkha Market in India is estimated to be around INR 150 bn to INR 200 bn with around 43% of male & 19% of the female masses consuming the same. In retrospect of the consumption, the cost of treating just 3 ill-effects caused by Gutkha consumption in India has been around USD 6.32 bn/year. Gutkha is primarily promoted as a mouth freshener owing to its mass popularity, but since it contains carcinogenic compounds, not many people realize the health hazards till they actually suffer from it.
The Health Effects
Gutkha consumption can have short-term & long-term effects on the health. Short-term effects include vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, mouth dryness, unusual sleep patterns & loss of concentration. Long-term effects range from Oral Cancer, Abnormal Thyroid Function & Kidney Abnormalities. Though Gutka is not fatally consumptive, the effects have a devastating impact on the individual’s life in the long run.
Citing all the above reasons and the harmful implications of Gutkha, many states in 2013 decided to ban the sale, manufacture, distribution & storage of Gutkha and all its variants with offenders liable to fines or even prison sentences. The ban till date has resulted in the loss of 100 crores as revenue with around 114 crores of Gutka seized from illegal means and vendors since 2013. Even after the ban, the consumption has seen a marginal increase from 8.3% to 8.6% with Andhra Pradesh being the largest market of consumption as on today. The gutka sachet which once used to sell at Rs 2 today retails at Rs.10 in the underground markets. Among bidis and cigarettes, gutka consumption stands at a higher share (48%) comparatively.
The Current Scenario
Like alcohol & tobacco, there is a ban on Gutkha advertising in India but still, l surrogate advertising methods navigate the ban laws and reach the masses. Even as of today, we certainly cannot be assertive of the fact that the ban has been 100% successful in implementation as even today Gutka reaches the people through various means like black marketing of sachets, smuggling amongst states, bribing officials to manufacture quantities & illegal means of stock hoardings at retailers and small paan shops.
Many states are contemplating measures like making Gutkha sale a non-bailable offence to conducting counselling sessions for such sellers, but it still needs to be seen whether such a commodity of masses will completely be eradicated from the consumption system? Only time will tell!