Gutka ban - Will it see the same fate as prohibition on smoking?

Florine Roche
Daijiworld Media Network - Mangalore
Mangalore, Jun 1:
The state government has given a perfect gift to the people by deciding to ban gutka and other food products containing tobacco on World No Tobacco Day observed on 31st May every year. Twenty-four states in India have already banned gutka sale and distribution and Karnataka has been a trifle late in banning it. But it is better late than never and health ministry has taken the right decision to ban all forms of gutka. In some of the states where the ban is enforced illegal sale of the same goes clandestinely, nullifying the entire efforts.
There are dissenting voices opposing the ban saying ban of gutka will affect areca growers, which are of course unfounded. Health Minister U T Khadar has done well to allay these fears of areca growers. Gutka manufacturer’s lobby will also try every trick up the sleeve to come out with its own defensive mechanism and oppose the ban. But in Uttar Pradesh which banned gutka in April this year, gutka manfucturers who approached the Apex Court against the ban received a jolt when the Supreme Court upheld the ban.

The challenge on hand
It is a challenge for the state to ensure that the ban is implemented stringently and offenders are punished so that it acts as a deterrent. The moot question at this juncture is how effectively the state will be able to implement the ban given the fact that such laws remain only on paper. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had prohibited smoking in public places in an order in 2008. As per the ban the sale of tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions is also prohibited, which is seldom followed. The court order banned smoking in all public places and public transports including railways and had asked the commissioners of the metros to keep it informed about the action taken again cigarette manufacturers violating the advertising code. Public places that come under the ban order include hospitals, health institutes, public offices, public transports, court buildings, educational institutions, libraries and auditoriums.
In the absence of the strict enforcement we could spot people regularly smoking in areas that qualify as public places. Passive smoking impairs the health of non-smokers who get affected for no fault of theirs, which is unfair. There are people who say smoking is a personal choice. But personal choice of smoking is deleterious to other’s health as second-hand smoke is quite harmful, something which smokers fail to acknowledge or they care a damn.

No Awareness
Public awareness on this in Dakshina Kannada district, the most literate district in the state, is nil and those who are aware carry on with the with gay abandon because everyone else seems to do so. People smoke freely in bus stands and other public places. Cigarettes are easily available in petty shops even near school/college zones. Cigarettes are easily available in the shops inside KSRTC bus stand.
The police along with the district health department have to ensure that the ban is enforced under cigarette and other tobacco products act (COTPA) But health officials of the state government are least bothered to do anything with the ban leave alone implementing it in our district. They are not even accessible to the media and to get the right person to answer this writer had to call up at least 12 health officials because they went on giving contact numbers of Mysore DHO and even a health official of Davanagere in their bid escape from answering the media.
Finally district tuberculosis officer Dr Ramakrishna Rao who responded to our query said that so far the health department has not taken any initiative to implement the ban on smoking in public places and there hasn’t been any action against the offenders. He said “the health department has been concentrating its efforts on spreading more awareness especially in schools and colleges”. He however, denied that the ban on tobacco would go in the same way as the ban on smoking in public and it would be implemented with the right earnestness. .
Dr Vishak Acharya, Asst Professor of Pulmonary department at KMC says “It is high time the health department takes up the issue of banning tobacco sale and use in public places. Unless the law is enforced with the seriousness it deserves people continue to indulge in it. The smokers endanger the health of the general public as it may cause bronchitis, asthma, cough and other health problems. The public are affected without them being the cause of it”.
The need of the hour is to fight against it on a war footing. Politicians need to give up their self interest and come together on a cause that might be beneficial to the society in a big way. Health is wealth and we cannot allow our population to succumb to various illnesses due to narrow political considerations. At the same time once the ban becomes a law it should be enforced with the seriousness it deserves.