Smokeless Tobacco Users in India Cry “Enough!”
People hooked on gutka want authorities to take fast action
Posted by: Rajika Jayatilake, Associate Director, International Communications | Aug 15, 2011
Hundreds of thousands of victims of smokeless tobacco are raising their voices against a regional product — gutka — that is responsible for 90 percent of oral cancer cases in India, the nation with the highest rate of oral cancer in the world.
State by state, tobacco users who became addicted at young ages and suffer from devastating illnesses are trying to shock their state chief executives into action by telling their personal stories. So far, the chief ministers in 11 out of 28 states already have signed a pledge to "rid India of this menace tobacco."
Gutka is a popular, indigenous form of smokeless tobacco in South and Southeast Asia. It is flavored with spices and sweeteners, and sold cheaply in thousands of shops and kiosks. In India alone, more than 5 million kids are addicted to it.
Most gutka users understand the lethal consequences of their addiction too late. But now they are taking action.
Rahul Bharadwaj, 38, of New Delhi is one of them. He wrote a letter recounting his ordeal with oral cancer to India's president and prime minister, and to the leader of India's ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi.
Here's his story:
I have seen death from very close quarter and no one can understand my pain.
I had toxic chemotherapy, I had deforming surgery and painful Radiotherapy. Despite all this, I am still not sure if I will live long enough to be for my daughter's next birthday. Me and wife haven't slept for last many months because we are afraid of scary nightmares. My daughter still cannot come to terms with her father having deformities and disabilities.
My mother's eyes are still wet and lips are constant praying for my life. Professionally, I am not the same aggressive person because of the reduced stamina and difficulty in speaking. I live with constant fear of re-occurrence of disease ... the slightest of symptoms panic me. All because of Gutka/pan Masala!
The media have picked up on the story, reporting on meetings the tobacco users have demanded with their public officials. The chief ministers at times become visibly upset when meeting the oral cancer victims and their families.
They must turn their shock into action, by banning gutka entirely.