When the world will observe Cancer Day on February 4, hundreds in Kashmir valley will continue to be susceptible to the fatal disease because the government here has failed to ban ‘gutka’, a smokeless tobacco product, like other states of the country.
"Besides young population, poor and vulnerable communities are also getting attracted to it, and results have started pouring into our hospitals. There is increase in the number of cancer patients in the state, many owe it to tobacco products like gutka,” said advocate Shafat N Ahmad, who is part of advocacy against sale and manufacture of gutka.
Gutka contains deadly chemicals, which are major causes of mouth as well as throat cancer. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India 2009-10 report released by ministry of health and family, about 26.6% population of Jammu and Kashmir is using tobacco products in one or the other form.
"8.0% among them use smokeless tobacco, like guthka, 12% smoke cigarettes and 3.8% smoke bidis,” it says.
The government of India has already banned the sale and manufacture of products like gutka, khaini and other chewing tobacco products in 18 states and one union territory based on the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
"By banning gutka, the state government in the 20 states has demonstrated tremendous commitment towards safeguarding the health of people of India and protecting the masses, especially the youth from the growing menace of tobacco addiction. We request to the Jammu and Kashmir government to implement the FSSAI law in larger interest of younger generation,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director, Voluntary Health Association of India.
In December last year, the J&K high court issued a notice to the state government for its response on the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Jammu and Kashmir Voluntary Health and Development Association seeking ban on manufacture, sale, storage and distribution of Gutka, Panmasala and other forms of chewing tobacco containing nicotine ingredients in the state.
A division bench, comprising Justices Virender Singh and Muzaffar Hussain Attar, had asked the government to file response. The government has constituted a committee but is yet to come up with intention to ban the product.
India spends approximately Rs. 300 billion annually in both public and private spending on treatment of tobacco related illness, accounting for roughly one fourth of all health spending. "The gutkha market could be between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 20,000 crore in annual sales," says a report.