If you live in Mumbai like I do, you've probably become used to seeing the streets, walls, and the inside of buildings full of red paan stains. As everyone knows, those red stains are the least of the problems associated with gutka and paan masala.
Thankfully, a few years ago the state government banned the sale of gutkha, and later banned the sale of scented supari/paan masala. Doctors and activists welcomed this ban. Unfortunately, the government recently modified the ban to permit the sale of 'scented supari', at least until the report of a one-member committee constituted to look into the ban. Thankfully, it appears that better sense prevailed and the ban was reinstated for six months. Why is this a problem even though the ban was reinstated? Because scented supari has areca nut, a known carcinogen, and the government shouldn't even be considering lifting the ban in the first place.
A 2014 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, found that there is "substantial evidence for carcinogenicity of areca nut in cancers of the mouth and esophagus" The study also noted that areca nut affects almost all the organs in the human body, including the brain, heart lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive organs. The study also notes that, apart from being a carcinogen, areca nut can cause a number of other health issues as well, including suppressing the immune system and type II diabetes. The study concludes by stating that there is an urgent need for strict legislation to regulate the production and commercial preparation of areca nut products.
Several packaged betel nut products have tobacco in them and this could act as a gateway to a chewing tobacco habit in children
The biggest reason why lifting the ban on scented supari is a problem is that its primary consumers are kids who think it is a harmless mouth freshener. According to a 2012 study on the consumption of scented supari by school going children in Indore, 27 percent of kids' chewed areca nut and, out of those who did 81% of them used sweetened and flavoured areca nut products. The study also noted that the majority of kids who chewed areca nut were not aware of the harmful side effects.
Several packaged betel nut products have tobacco in them and this could act as a gateway to a chewing tobacco habit in children. A 2016 survey on the perceptions of smokeless tobacco among school children in municipal schools in Mumbai found that 17.9% of them used betel nut products.
The study concluded that the kids were more likely to identify cigarettes and beedis as tobacco products than gutkha, mishri and khaini. The study concluded that the high use of smokeless tobacco products coupled with low levels of knowledge among the kids is indicative of the need for educational programs to increase awareness about the side effects of these products.
It is abundantly clear that there doesn't appear to be any need to constitute a committee to further examine whether or not scented supari is harmful. Considering the fact that kids are the primary consumers of scented supari, the Government shouldn't even be considering lifting the ban.
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