Close to 15% of the population in seven Indian states that have banned gutkha continue to consume the product, according to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Of the 690 consumers of chewable and non-chewable tobacco surveyed, 84% said they buy separate packets of tobacco and other ingredients, which were available at local shops, mix the substances to constitute a gutkha-like product and consume it.
“In some states, retailers who are still selling the premixed gutkha are secretly communicating with customers to sell the banned product at a higher price,” said Pradeep Krishnatray, director, research and strategic planning, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He said that those who consume gutkha-like products buy the substances from the same retailer who sells packed gutkha.
The study, which was conducted in Delhi-NCT, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, found that no retail outlet had Gutkha packets on display. Though a significant number of gutkha users continue to consume it, half of them reported that they consume less since the ban.
“Those who consume gutkha-like substances (mixture of tobacco and scented substances) said that they do not enjoy the product. Also, a majority of those still consume gutkha said they have tried to quit,” said Krishnatray.
Experts said that the ban is effective as it makes gutkha inaccessible for first-time users. Researchers interviewed 311 people who have quit gutkha. Around 66% of former gutkha users across various states attributed their quitting the carcinogenic substance to the ban. Among those interviewed in Maharashtra, 88% said they quit after it was banned.
When it comes to awareness about the gutkha ban, Karnataka fared poorly, with only one-fourth of gutkha users aware of the ban. However, in Assam, all respondents were aware of the ban. Rajasthan has gone a step ahead to reduce tobacco consumption. “Any person joining government services has to submit an affidavit stating they don’t consume tobacco in any form and won’t consume in future. There is 65% taxation on all tobacco products,” said Neeraj K Pawan, additional director, National Health Mission and Director, IEC.