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Bans causing decline in gutka consumption: WHO study

There are strong indications that state-level laws banning gutka are leading to a decrease in its consumption, with nearly 49 percent respondents admitting to having consumed less since the ban, according to a WHO study.

Conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) country office for India in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study said that the state-level bans also led to the product's reduced availability.

Gutka ban
Representational picture

"These findings have a strong message that regulatory mechanisms are effective and can have a positive impact on the consumption pattern," Nata Menabde, the WHO representative to India, said in a statement.

"The study has revealed that product bans did impact use. Of the respondents who continue to use pre-packaged gutka, half (49 percent) reported they consume less since the ban."

"I am also happy to learn that there was high degree of unanimity (90 percent of the respondents) that the government should ban the manufacturing, sale and distribution of other forms of smokeless tobacco," she added.

The study conducted in Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Pradesh and the national capital region revealed that the 92 percent supported gutka bans across the studied jurisdictions and there was 99 percent agreement that gutka bans were good for the Indian youth's health.

However, Pradeep Krishnatray, the director, research and strategic planning, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, centre for communications programmes said that most respondents were purchasing tobacco and mixing it with a packet of pan masala with zarda (chewing tobacco).

"This innovation has adversely affected the very purpose and consequent impact of the ban," he said.

India has world's largest number of consumers of smokeless tobacco; recent estimates indicate that 26 percent of adults (15 years or older) use smokeless tobacco, the statement said. Nearly one million people anually die in India due to tobacco consumption.

It added that in recent years, all states in India have banned the manufacturing, sale and distribution of gutka to address the public health impacts caused by the product.

Expressing concern that smokeless tobacco use continues to be viewed as culturally acceptable and that people continue to initiate use, Menabde noted that more needs to be done to help people in successfully quitting tobacco's use.

The study also revealed that approximately half of the respondents tried to stop using gutka last year, with nearly 80 percent of them agreeing that the bans will help people quit.

It also said that of the respondents who quit since the bans, a substantial proportion in each state (from 41-88 percent) reported that they "quit using gutka because of the ban".

Surveys were conducted with 1,001 current and former gutka consumers and 458 tobacco product retailers.

Observation of 450 retail environments and 54 in-depth interviews with the government officials, enforcement officials, and citizens working with civil society groups also contributed to the study.

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