India: Ban on plastic smokeless packs

Feb 11, 2011

The Union ministry of environment and forests on Monday notified the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011, which bans the use of plastic materials in sachets for storing, packing or selling gutka, tobacco and pan masala. As a result, attractive plastic sachets of gutka and pan masala will no longer be available.

In a state that has the second highest percentage of tobacco-chewers in the country (after Bihar), the move comes as the one of the biggest public-health initiatives in recent times, say anti-tobacco activists and doctors. “Colourful plastic packages attract teenagers towards taking up gutka and pan masala. If the packaging is not attractive, the number of new tobacco-chewers will significantly drop,” said Dr Usha Ranjan Parija, who heads the Research Centre for Tobacco Control at Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre in Cuttack.

The latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey India 2010 says the percentage of smokeless tobacco users in the above-15 age-group in Orissa is above 30 per cent as against the national average of 25.9 per cent.

Itishree Kanungo, project co-ordinator, VHAI-Aparajita, a voluntary organization spearheading the anti-tobacco movement in the state, said plastic sachets are very convenient for the buyers, sellers and makers. If plastic packing is banned, storage and transport will be difficult.”

Users will find it difficult to keep gutka in their shirt or trouser pockets unless it is packed in plastic. This will definitely reduce tobacco consumption, said Dr G Biswas, another oncologist in the city.

Tobacco vendors, however, said a change in packaging will not make any difference to the sale. “Users will buy it anyway. These products would not be any less attractive even if they are packed in paper,” said a shopkeeper at Kalpana Square in the state capital.

However, gutka users themselves think that unless it is packaged nicely, it will cease to attract consumers. “If Gutka not packed properly, it will lose its flavour. I will quit if plastic sachets are no more available,” said Satyabipra Patra, a 28-year-old corporate employee who chews gutka for the last nine years.

Doctors say chewable tobacco products such as gutka have proved to be a bigger curse on health than smoking in the state. “Around 28 per cent of the cancer patients in Orissa get the disease because of their habit of tobacco-chewing,” said Dr Sanjoy Panda, an oncologist. Smokeless tobacco users have an increased risk of oral cancer, he added. Dr Panda cited various surveys and said over 57 per cent households in the state have tobacco-chewers. According to the National Family Health Survey III (2005-06), 42 per cent of the people in the state chew tobacco.


Source: The Times of India (February 10, 2011)