As many as 72 samples of all 18 brands of gutkha sold in the market today were found laced with adulterants, the Food and Drugs Laboratory(FDL) in the north western state of Gujarat has revealed.
A majority of these brands also had magnesium carbonate, which is an anti-caking agent and is not supposed to be present in the gutkha pouches. The tests were conducted in three batches by FDL starting January 1 last year till June this year.
The Gujarat Cancer Research Institute(GCRI) says that poly-asymmetric hydrocarbons, a known carcinogen, are produced due to extremely high temperatures when gutkha is packed. Besides, genotoxins mainly present in tobacco too is known to cause cancer.
P M Shah, Director of GCRI, says "I have seen that the tobacco content in the gutkha is known to cause cancer. We have seen youngsters as young as 18 or 20 years of age coming to us with oral cancer, primarily caused due to the habit of gutkha chewing. This is alarming and a check is necessary."
"The nicotine addiction causes genetic changes of mucous cells present in the mouth. This leads to cancer," adds Shah.
A month ahead of his marriage, Narendra, 23, was diagnosed with oral cancer at the GCRI. This ambitious lad, a networking engineer, was offered a fat salary package by a leading hardware MNC firm and was the only earning member in his family. All was well until a few days ago, and would have continued thus had it not been for his gutkha addiction. Narendra now regrets not listening to his friends and family members.
Sometime ago Mahesh Pandya, an activist, had filed an application under the Right to Information Act seeking to know the quality of the gutkhas sold in the market, and the shocking news of adulteration came out.
Close to 2,016 people in the last two decades in the state have fallen prey to oral cancer because of gutkha addiction. The maximum victims are in Ahmedabad district, it is said.
At least 74 per cent of tobacco consumers in rural Gujarat today are below 25 and most of them got sucked into the habit between five and 17 years of age, according to a study conducted by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) and Overseas Development Administration of UK. The study also states that in case of tobacco consumers - those hooked on to gutkha - the prevalence went up with increasing levels of education.
But so far there is no indication that the government, state or federal, is doing much to check the menace, activists charge.