Who will fix the loopholes in tobacco menace?

The consumption of tobacco products are banned or restricted during the present lockdown by CSOs and the government, however these products are available in plenty in Manipur.

Trucload of tobacco leaves being brought into the state (File Photo: IFp)

Tobacco is the agricultural product of leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. All species of Nicotiana contain addictive drug nicotine-a stimulant and sedative contained in all parts of the plants except the seeds-which occurs in varying amounts depending on the species and variety cultivated. The vast majority of commercially available tobacco is derived from the species ”Nicotina tabacum”, though it is also produced from Nicotiana alata and to a lesser extent Nicotiana cleveandi, Nicotiana longiflora and Nicotiana rustica among others. Nicotiana rustica in particular contains much more nicotine than N-tabacum and other species of nicotiana and forms the basis of a number of unique tobacco products, including several preparations used in Latin American shamanic ceremonies.

Once tobacco has been grown, harvested, cured and processed, it is used to produce a number of different products. These are most often consumable; however tobacco and the nicotine derived from it are also used to create pesticides. Tobacco product can generally be divided into two types: smoking tobacco and smokeless tobacco.

Chewing is one of the oldest method of consuming tobacco leaves. Native Americans in both north and South America chewed the fresh leaves of the tobacco plants, frequently mixed with lime. Modern American style of chewing tobacco (colloquially known as chew or chaw especially in American south) is produced from cured and often fermented tobacco usually dampened and mixed with some type of sweetener often molasses. Twist tobacco may be an exception in this case as many brands of twist are not sweetened. In using chewing tobacco-at least types other than tobacco pellets, the consumer usually deposits the tobacco between the cheek and teeth and lightly macerates and sucks the tobacco to allow juice to flow. Thus, when chewing, it is common to spit and discard excess saliva caused by the release of juices from the tobacco, justifying the existence of the spittoon or cuspidor.

Chewing tobacco endemic to the western world is manufactured in several forms. Different types of chewing tobacco are endemic to the Indian subcontinent.

Gutkha is a mixture of betel nuts, tobacco, and paraffin wax catechu and slake lime.

Mava also known as mawa is a chewing tobacco product popular in Gujarat made with a mixture of betel nut, calcium carbonate and flavored tobacco. It is also known as faki or masala.

Cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the smoker’s mouth and expelled. It is one of the oldest methods of preparing tobacco for consumption. Any combustible tobacco product that designed to be smoked –other than cigarette including cigars, cigarillos, little cigars blunts and bidis and other end products.

Tobacco contains nicotine, an ingredient that can lead to addiction, which is why so many people who used tobacco find it difficult to quit.

There are also many other potentially harmful chemicals found in tobacco or created by burning it. Tobacco use in children and adolescence is reaching pandemic levels.

The World Bank has reported that nearly 82,000 to 99,000 children and adolescents all over the world begins smoking every day. India is the third largest producer and consumer of tobacco in the world. The country has a long history of tobacco use. Tobacco is used in a wide variety of ways in India, including smoking and smokeless use. Tobacco is smoked in the forms of bidis and cigarettes or by using devices like hookah, hookli, chhutta dhumti or chillum.

Tobacco is also used in a number of smokeless forms in India which includes betel quid chewing, mishri, khaini, gutka, and sniff also as an ingredients of pan masala. According to the most recent Government of India’s National sample Survey data, there are 184 million tobacco consumers in India. About 40 per cent of them use smokeless tobacco, 20 per cent consume cigarettes and another 40 per cent smoke bidis and about 20 million children of ages 10-14 are estimated to be tobacco addicted. Almost 34 per cent Indians (57% men and 11% women) consume tobacco either in smoking (Cigarettes, bidis, hookah etc) or smokeless forms (gutkha, khaini, panmasala etc), the latter being more common.

Manipur occupies second rank in the use of smokeless form (47.7%) of tobacco after Tripura (48.5%). The commonest forms in the state is Betal Quid with tobacco, local term as Kwa Zarda. Its uses are ever increasing in number in the state of Manipur, especially among the female population. Other forms of smokeless tobacco are Khaini (Golden Tobacco, Sajan, Kuber, Raja etc), Talab  and Bombay with processed tobacco, are abundantly available and its uses is very much common among youths ( both boys & girls).Though these tobacco and tobacco related products are banned or restricted during  present lockdown of Covid-19 by CSOs and Government, these products are available in plenty in Manipur. And it is reported that the prices of mitha pan betel leaves, processed tobacco called Zarda and khaini (all types) are sky high in the state at present.

The betel leaves ( Kwa Mana), the cost of which  in the normal time  generally varied from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 per 300 plus piece (called one Phai) spiked at Rs 10.000 plus during lockdown. Golden Tobacco khaini which cost Rs 15 or so per dhabha and Sajan Khaini its price is Rs 10 per packet gone up to Rs 100 plus. Betel Quid (Kwa Zarda) which cost Rs 10 per piece in the normal time escalated to Rs 50 per piece. Female folk (generally) run here and there to get at least one such piece and young boys and girls are looking for the Talab and Bombay (Processed pan with tobacco), the cost of which was Rs 5 per packet during normal period hiked to Rs 25 per packet, which indicates addiction in tobacco products. They don’t bother about daily essential of the family but seems worried about getting tobacco products. A middle aged Manipuri woman or man is said to consume at least five plus Kwa matap daily, which drains out our limited economy. Then what could be the monetary situation of the family? And what is the extent of the menace? What are the loopholes to restrict it completely? Who are responsible in this racket? Who will fix them?

Tobacco consumption is a major global public health problem. One person dies every six second due to health related effects caused by tobacco according to World Health organization (WHO). Prohibition of smoking in public places (including indoor work place) has been enacted from October 2, 2008 across India. Direct or indirect advertisement and sponsorship as well as promotion of tobacco product has been prohibited. Sale of tobacco products to minor children less than 18 years age is also strictly prohibited and at the same time sales of any tobacco products within a radius of 100 yards of any educational institution is also banned. In spite of these prohibition, the use of tobacco product both in smoke and smokeless form is escalating in many part of the country, which in fact is a menace to be controlled.

First Published:June 19, 2020, 8:33 p.m.

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