The Union health ministry favored banning of all kinds of gutka saying the poor are vulnerable to it but expressed reservation on banning cigarette as it is not "affordable to everyone" and endorsed a ban on the manufacture and sale of all forms of nicotine-laced pan masala, gutka and chewing tobacco, telling the Supreme Court that the economic cost of tobacco use far outweigh revenues from its sale.
The court was hearing appeals filed by gutka and tobacco manufacturers against the ban imposed on them in some states. "The total economic cost of tobacco use was reported as $1.7 billion, which was more than the annual government expenditure on tobacco control, and 16% more than the total tax revenue generated from tobacco," the health ministry said, citing a study by the National Sample Survey of India.
The direct medical cost for treating smokeless tobacco-related cancers and diseases stood at $285 million, while indirect morbidity costs, including costs of caregivers and work loss due to illness, amounted to $104 million , it said.
"We are making distinction between smokeless tobacco and cigarette. Everyone can afford gutka but not everyone can afford cigarette. The target group of gutka is poor people. Chewing tobacco is also acceptable in our society," Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising told a bench headed by Justice G S Singhvi while favouring ban on gutka.Consumption of products such as gudakhu, gul, mawa, khaini, zarda, maras, naswar gutka, zarda pan masala and areca nut (supari) can cause cancerous as well as non-cancerous diseases, the ministry said. The ministry claimed, through Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaisingh, that although the manufacture and sale of all forms of smokeless tobacco was made illegal under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the law was not being enforced strictly.
The ministry also cited a court-ordered study by the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare to emphasise the need for a total ban on manufacture and sale of such products to protect the citizens’ right to health under Article 21 of the Constitution.
To the gutka lobby’s argument that the industry should be regulated rather than banned, Jaisingh said there were over 3,095 chemical components in smokeless tobacco products, of which 28 were proven to be carcinogenic. The adverse health effects of smokeless tobacco far outweighed that of smoking, she added.
According to the ministry, the absence of a uniform ban on manufacture and sale of such products is marring the government’s efforts — sale of gutka and pan masala is banned in all states and union territories, except Meghalaya and
Mizoram, Manipur, Dadar & Nagar Haveli and Maharashtra have also issued orders banning sale of zarda, khaini and other forms of chewing tobacco, but
has allowed their manufacture for export.
“This is the product which gives you ticket for your next journey," the bench said when it was told that
has emerged as the capital of mouth cancer. India
In spite of the regulation, companies subvert the ban by selling tobacco-less pan masala and sachets of tobacco separately.