The Supreme Court has strengthened its stance on the ban of all forms of chewable tobacco and nicotine and has directed all authorities of the country including the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to strictly stop the sale of gutkha, khaini, zarda and other such food products containing tobacco and nicotine.
The decision was taken by the court while hearing an appeal filed by the manufacturers of pan masala, gutkha and chewing tobacco (zarda) against state government notifications issued under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India Regulations, again directed them to strictly comply with the law.
‘A strong association has been found between smokeless tobacco usage and incidence of oral, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, throat and renal cancers.’
The Regulation 2.3.4 of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) which states Product not to contain any substance which may be injurious to health: Tobacco and nicotine shall not be used as ingredients in any food products
, was issued on August 1, 2011 by the apex food regulator, FSSAI.
The SC's orders came on a plea from amicus curiae Gopal Subramaniam who argued that the manufacturers of chewing tobacco are circumventing the court's direction to implement the gutkha ban by selling the same product in twin pouches. The amicus said he was speaking for millions of users of chewing tobacco who were not present before the court but were suffering from numerous diseases due to products manufactured by the petitioners.
Subramanian brought to the notice of the court the following content in the government affidavit on the subject "To circumvent the ban on the sale of gutkha, the manufacturers are selling pan masala (without tobacco) in one packet and flavoured chewing tobacco in another sachet often conjoined and sold together by the same vendor to defeat the purpose of the FSSAI rule. So consumers can buy the pan masala and flavoured chewing tobacco and mix them for consumption. Hence, instead of the earlier ready to consume tobacco mixtures, chewing tobacco companies are now selling gutkha in twin packs to be mixed as one."
"In view of the above, concerned statutory authorities are directed to comply with the above mandate of law. We also direct the Secretaries, Health Departments of all the States and Union Territories to file their affidavits before the next date of hearing on the issue of total compliance of the ban imposed on manufacturing and sale of gutkha and pan masala with tobacco and/or nicotine," the court ordered.
The apex court taking note of the submissions directed all state food safety officers concerned to ensure strict enforcement of the gutkha ban and file a compliance report by November 9.
The Health Ministry had issued orders banning gutkha sale on the basis of a report of the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare which found there were over 3,095 chemical components in smokeless tobacco products including 28 proven carcinogens.
The report further indicates a strong association between smokeless tobacco usage and incidence of oral, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, throat and renal cancers. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey India recently showed 35% of all Indiana adults used tobacco in some form. Of these, 21% used smokeless tobacco, 9% smoked and 5% used both chewing and smoking tobacco.
A report released in 2014 by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute found that users in India and Bangladesh make up 80 per cent of the total smokeless tobacco users in the world.
Another report by the Health Ministry had estimated the total economic cost attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in 2011 amounted to Rs 1,04,500 crore in India, equivalent to 1.04% of the country's gross domestic product.