What is the Smokeless tobacco?

July 2000

Despite the proven ill-effects of this noxious stimulant there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of units manufacturing such products whose aggregate annual sales revenue is over Rs.2,000 crore according to the FDA (Food & Drug Administration)

IT WAS AFTER THE BIRTH OF MY (now teenage) son that I discovered the difference between eating whatever came my way and consciously choosing my food. He was a colicky cranky baby.  Doctors thought I was a hypochondriac and that I never had any solutions besides numerous (allopath) medications.  Lucky for me I stumbled onto the path of enlightenment after reading some revolutionary books and meeting some enlightened teachers.

So forget about the fair amount of junk foods like burgers and pizzas, colas and wafers, you can well imagine my concern when by his bedside I found a couple of packets of gutkha. When I asked him if he knew what it was, he said quite honestly that it was supari (bettlenut). I have never been a parent who gave him too many “do nots” or deadlines. So much so that he often jokes about how there isn’t much he can do in secrecy because nothing really is forbidden (except some very basic stuff of course). I guess it must take away some of the fun of being a teenager.

Anyway, when I encountered these packets on his bedside I didn’t mince any words while expressing my disapproval. Thanks to  Mr.M.L. Kodilkar, I got to know a bit more about gutkha some years ago.

I was on my way to Pune by train and there was Kodilkar walking up and down the aisle with a signboard in his hand which read “Gutkha is dangerous” in Hindi.  On talking with him I learnt that he had begun this public awareness campaign in 1993 because he felt that the dangers of this stimulant had not been sufficiently publicised in the print or any other media.

Gutkha packets don’t sport a statutory warning printed on them.  Kodilkar began his campaign also because he felt that gutkha wrappers  contributed to littering, the spitting created an eyesore, the smell of gutkha chewers is repulsive to fellow citizens and because he knows of several instances where gutkha chewing ruined families by inducing ill-health and lethargy.

KODILKAR EXPRESSES DISGUST ABOUT THE CIVIC sensibilities of  Indians, who will not litter foreign habitats, but don’t care a hoot about despoiling their own habitats. The artificial katha, tobacco, supari and lime mix in gutkha cause teeth to rot, tongues to spoil, mouths to be restricted, throats to burn and digestive enzymes to be lost in spitting. Addicts lose interest in food, become weak and vulnerable to many diseases including cancer. He warns the younger generation of the lethargy and impotence that gutkha consumption induces. 

Yet despite the proven ill-effects of this noxious stimulant, there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of units manufacturing such products whose aggregate annual sales revenue is over Rs.2,000 crore according to the FDA (Food & Drug Administration). A leading gutkha manufacturing company sells 600 million packets per day and exports its products to many countries. With these numbers involved is it any wonder then that a ban on gutkha is still to be enacted?  One wonders: Surely there are many ethical businesses people can think of other than the production of cigarettes, alcohol, gutkha and the like. Is this what freedom is all about?  

A few years ago Dr. Ram Barot, chairman of the health committee of the state government had initiated June 4 as anti-gutkha day. Quit gutkha, boycott gutkha. But after all those advertising campaigns  (including some featuring our very socially motivated film-stars), will anything short of a ban help?  Why should statutory warnings be given only to cigarette smokers?

IT IS AN IRRESPONSIBLE SOCIETY WHERE PURE CLEAN drinking water is hard to find that offers Coke, Pepsi, cigarettes and gutkha at every street corner and at strategic places outside schools. Please at least spare our very young.  Kodilkar says even dog biscuits are analysed before being marketed, but not gutkha which he believes is “India’s worst invention”. He feels if politicians and parents eat gutkha, they are setting a bad example to the nation’s children. And that creating awareness is left to conscious and conscientious citizens like him.

In my counselling work I encourage people to read the labels of products. If there are complicated words you cannot understand, leave the product on the shelf which is the best place for it. It’s useful to remember that ingredients listed are in order of their quantity within the end product. For instance if it begins with, “water, sugar…” then the two main ingredients in the product are water and sugar. Don’t let words like sucrose confuse you because all it means is sugar. And just because words like ‘permitted’ comes before preservatives don’t believe that’s fine. And beware of words like ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ because it has become fashionable and good marketing strategy to use them.  The product may well have nothing to do with either nature or health.

Unfortunately there are no strict labeling laws in India.  The fact that gutkha packets are bereft of ingredient information should make you beware. After being labeled a health nut all these years, I delight in being neither an unhealthy one nor partaking of unhealthy nuts and leaves of any kind.

Kavita Mukhi

Kavita Mukhi

She is the mentor of The Farmers’ Store and the founder of The Bandra Farmers Market. She is a pioneer, evangelist and an over all inspiration and motivating force of our business. She is actively involved in steering the company up the organic path and also is the qualitative think tank and procurement authority behind all the products sold at The Farmers’ Store. Learn more about her on the About Us Page!

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts