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Gutkha baron’s death throws focus on oral cancer

Rasiklal Dhariwal’s death due to oral cancer has brought the disease into sharp focus as the consumption of gutkha, a known cause of cancer, is widespread in India.

pune Updated: Oct 27, 2017 14:15 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
Last year, on July 16, the NCP had felicitated Dhariwal on the occasion of ‘Guru Purnima’ for his “contribution to society.” Ironically, NCP leaders, including party president Sharad Pawar and late home minster RR Patil, were victims of tobacco products, some of which were produced by Dhariwal’s Manikchand group.
Last year, on July 16, the NCP had felicitated Dhariwal on the occasion of ‘Guru Purnima’ for his “contribution to society.” Ironically, NCP leaders, including party president Sharad Pawar and late home minster RR Patil, were victims of tobacco products, some of which were produced by Dhariwal’s Manikchand group.(HT REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO)

The death of ‘Gutkha Baron’ Rasiklal Manikchand Dhariwal of prolonged illness resulting from oral cancer on October 24 has brought the high prevalence of the disease in the country in sharp focus.

Dhariwal, one of the pioneers of ‘gutkha’ (chewable tobacco) and its marketing in low-priced sachets, took the Manikchand empire to soaring heights with over ₹8,000 crore turnover and went on to diversify into a range of other businesses. He died of salivary gland cancer at the age of 78.

Previously, he was also under the radar of CBI for his alleged links with underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim over a dispute that he had with another gutkha manufacturer, who was once his associate.

Last year, on July 16, the NCP had felicitated Dhariwal on the occasion of ‘Guru Purnima’ for his “contribution to society.” Ironically, NCP leaders, including party president Sharad Pawar and late home minster RR Patil, were victims of tobacco products, some of which were produced by Dhariwal’s Manikchand group.

The fact that Dhariwal died of oral cancer has brought the disease into sharp focus as the consumption of gutkha is widespread in India along with tobacco in various other forms- a known cause of oral cancer.

Dr Kalyan Gangwal, one of the pioneers of the anti-gutkha campaign, described gutkha as “a poisonous premix combination of lime, tobacco, beetle nut and catechu which creates a reaction and causes cancerous growth.”

It was after sustained campaigning across the nation by a number of anti-gutkha campaigners including Dr Gangwal that the central government, in December 2016, banned the sale of food products containing tobacco and nicotine as ingredients across India. These included gutkha, paan masala, zarda and tobacco-based flavoured mouth fresheners. This decision came after a Supreme Court order of September 23, 2016, banning chewing tobacco products.

Speaking to Hindustan Times, oncologist Dr Bhushan Zade, from the prominent Pune hospital, Ruby Hall Clinic said the number of patients suffering from various kinds of cancer have been on the rise over the years. “There is an increase in patients with all kinds of cancer but it can be cured if detected in the early stages,” he said.

According to the 2016 report of the Indian Cancer Society, more than 10 lakh deaths occur due to tobacco in India annually and of these, one lakh are in Maharashtra alone. The state ranks third in the country in early deaths caused due to tobacco consumption.

Three-fourths of all tobacco-related cancers are associated with the head and neck including oral cavity, tongue and oesophagus cancer, while the remaining one-fourth is lung cancer.

Dr Shona Nag, oncologist from Jehangir Hospital said India accounts for 20-25 percent of the world’s oral cancers. Of these, 70 per cent are caused by non-smoking tobacco along with the chewing of paan and betel nuts.

“All oral cancers have a strong possibility of recurrence and the treatment involves surgery. The surgeries are mutilating and hence prevention in terms of not consuming non-smoking tobacco items is very important,” she said.

Dr Sanjay Deshmukh, oncologist, Ruby Hall Clinic said there are several cases of oral cancer that are under-reported and around 40,000 to 50,000 cases in Maharashtra have not made it to the last available report of the cancer registry.

“We see a total of 4 lakh oral cancer patients every year in India. The registry has reported 2.40 lakh oral cancer patients seen in India,” he said.

He regretted that despite access and support of literature and facts, people are oblivious to the main causes of cancer. “Not only are stomach cancers rising because of liquor and chewing tobacco, which is common in rural areas, but cigarette smoking too has increased quite a lot, especially among women of younger ages which is alarming because women can get cancer at an early age,” he said.