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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bombay HC heeds Voice of Victims, Upholds Ban on Pan-Masala along with Gutka

Mumbai, 15th September 2012: Many tobacco victims, and their anxious family members, will heave a big sigh of relief today. In a case that was keenly watched by public health activists and tobacco victims families, Bombay High Court today upheld Maharashtra's stringent ban on pan masala. The high court refused to give relief to eight big manufacturers of pan masala, gutka and allied products by issuing a stay order against the ban. Thus, the judiciary has vindicated the firm stand taken by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and other leading administrators to curb the menace of tobacco.
Advocate General Darius Khambatta and Additional Solicitor General Kevic Setalwad defended the state government's decision to ban pan masala. Senior advocate Rajni Iyer represented the intervenor, namely Action Council against Tobacco India (ACT-India), which is an NGO based in Tata Memorial Hospital.
Harish Bakshi, a former victim who was part of the team that campaigned with the administration for this ban, hailed the court's decision and congratulated the Maharashtra government and civil society groups that had fought together for this issue. “I would particularly like thank FDA commissioner Mahesh Zagade, who took such a bold step. However, I am a bit worried by the fact that the administration is not destroying the stocks of gutka and pan masala seized, worth Rs 86 crores. Because it means they can be sold somewhere else.
However, I heartily congratulate all the tobacco victims and surgeons from Tata Memorial hospital, who, supported by NGOs such as Salaam Bombay Foundation, had together campaigned for Maharashtra's stringent ban, which is miles ahead of other states. This stay order was being sought by the banned gutka industry in order to enable a backdoor re-entry for gutka, in the guise of independent tobacco pouches to be sold along with pan masala but intended to be consumed along with it. Getting pan masala excluded from the scope of this ban would have essentially nullified the ban. Indeed, as a former consumer, I know of prominent places such as outside CST station where tobacco and such products are being sold in independent pouches for mixing together. The police must crack down on such places and close the loopholes,” urges Harish.
Read ban orders of some states:
Pan masala itself is not just an innocent mixture of arecanut cuttings, food flavours and sweeteners. It is a specialized product engineered for causing addiction, and as such, it is an ingenious mix of traditional items and chemicals such as magnesium carbonate., designed to deliver ever higher "highs" to addicts. The similarity in packaging and marketing of gutkha and pan masala is no accident; pan masala initiates unwary people and gets them to set foot on the slippery slope of addiction. Gutka, khaini etc. lie in wait further down that slope. Maharashtra FDA's ban order dated 19 July 2012 highlighted the risk posed by Magnesium Carbonate present in pan masala, which leads to hyper magnesia, and sometimes cardiac arrest. Even pan masala brands marketed as “tobacco-free” contain high levels of nicotine, as revealed by a study commissioned by the Ministry of Health. Laboratory analysis of randomly picked pan masala brand samples by the Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI), Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh has revealed that Rajnigandha pan masala contains 2.26 gm of nicotine per 100 gm of pan masala -- more than Goa 1000 Gutkha, a leading brand which has 2.04 gm of nicotine per 100 gm.
Among those who had eloquently made presentations to the Chief Minister, Deputy CM and sensitized the State Assembly was Sumitra Pednekar, wife of late Satish Pednekar, who had succumbed to oral cancer in 2011 at the age of 61 years. Satish Pednekar, a former Home and Labour Minister of Maharashtra, was fond of having 5 to 6 packets of gutka every day. This ban may have come too late for campaigners like Sumitra and her two daughters, who were emotionally and financially ruined by the death of Satish Pednekar. But if they are reading this, these campaigners may draw some comfort from the fact that their efforts were not in vain.


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