India fights addictive “path to death”

September 07, 2012

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Despite powerful opposition from a billion-dollar industry, India continues to make progress in banning gutka – a deadly form of chewing tobacco that is fueling the country’s oral cancer epidemic.

According to a story by Reuters, Punjab has become the tenth of India’s 28 states to ban the sale of gutka.  Some 482 million people live in these 10 states. Delhi, Gujarat and Chandigarh, with a combined population of 77 million, are expected to act soon.

Gutka, which consists of tobacco flavored with spices and sweeteners, is sold in cheap, colorful packets that attract an estimated 65 million Indian users, including millions of children.  According to Reuters, the chemicals in some gutka brands are also used in tile cleaners and battery acid.

As a result of widespread addiction to gutka, India accounts for 86 percent of the world’s oral cancer cases and is known as the oral cancer capital of the world. India faces nearly 80,000 new cases of oral cancer each year.

Tobacco also takes an economic toll on India.

According to Reuters, India spends more than $5 billion a year to treat tobacco-related diseases, while earning far less –$1.4 billion – in excise tax revenue from tobacco.

Nearly one million Indians die each year from tobacco-related disease.

“If I knew it would land me here, in this condition, I wouldn’t have laid my eyes on it,” one of gutka’s many victims, Abdul Kayum, 62, told Reuters.  Abdul sold his land to pay for $9,000 in medical treatment that left his face bandaged after doctors cut out part of his jaw, gums and teeth to stop cancer from spreading.

“This is a path to death,” said Abdul.