Old habits die hard. So, while on one hand patrons of gutka strive relentlessly to resist the temptation, given the dearth of their daily fix in the market, the government, as always, believes it has done its job by imposing a ban on the product and has left addicts to fend for themselves. This is best illustrated by the fact that there’s just one government-run tobacco cessation centre in the city that caters to the whole state.
It’s been three months since the official prohibition on paan masala and gutka in the state. Following this, FDA has seized gutka products worth Rs 10 crore. So, authorities have done a fabulous job in ensuring people, and especially kids, don’t easily get their hands on these habit-forming substances. But, as far as setting up measures to help aficionados kick off the deadly dependency, the state has come a cropper. On the other hand, doctors at the only tobacco cessation centre run by the government say such establishments prove useless in these endeavours and habitués need to exercise self-restraint.
How to be a quitter
According to a physician at the Tobacco Cessation Clinic, Tata Memorial Hospital, most gutka consumers feel there is no point in visiting these institutions, believing they are fully capable of quitting the habit themselves. So far, such cessation centres do not enjoy popularity among addicts. Doctors also admit that giving up gutka is very difficult and most people, who are determined to quit initially, give up after a few tries.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital, said, “Over 80 per cent of the addicts think they do not require assistance to quit. More than 10 per cent believe they need help but not professional help. Only the remaining turn up at cessation clinics. This results in less than 8-10 people approaching us for assistance on a daily basis after the ban on gutka.” He added, “There is only one government-run tobacco cessation centre in the city responsible for the entire state. But there are six privately managed centres and six medical colleges that provide psychiatric counselling. Despite all these facilities there is no effective way to quit gutka or tobacco addiction.”
According to Dr Chaturvedi, the only result of the ban across the state is that young children do not get to buy gutka from local vendors or paan shops. Because of the prohibition, gutka packets are not visible in the open market. In case of adults who are addicts, only strong willpower — and not de-addiction centres — can help kick off the habit, he said.
According to de-addiction experts, only two per cent of the habitués in the country are able to quit, while the remaining 98 per cent continue to live with their addiction. As long as gutka and tobacco products are available in the market, there is no solution to the problem. They also claim that tobacco addiction is worse than dependence on party drugs as the latter do not cause cancer.
“The decision to ban gutka was a much-needed one to help transform lives of users. But apart from implementation of the decision, it is equally necessary to aid addicts in successfully quitting the habit. The role of a de-addiction centre is extremely valuable, and this must go hand in hand with the implementation of a ban. When a user is faced with the non-availability of nicotine, he or she faces withdrawal symptoms. The de-addiction centres help in counselling and providing appropriate medical treatment to people,” said a de-addiction expert.
I S Chahal, principal secretary (medical education) said, “Right now we have no plans of setting up more de-addiction centres in the state. Currently, apart from the clinic at Tata Memorial Hospital, we have facilities at our medical colleges that provide psychiatric therapy and medication. Unless we get complaints of addicts crowding all 19 hospitals, we have no intention to set up more clinics.” State commissioner of food and drug administration (FDA) Mahesh Zagade could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.