Nicotine gum was introduced to the market to help smokers stay away from smoking. But it looks like it will have counterproductive effects as children have easy access to it through grocery shops and supermarkets.
Fearing abuse and addiction, NGOs and child rights groups in the city have sought an immediate restriction on the sale and distribution of nicotine gums to children below 18 years in the State.
In a letter to the Department of Health and Family Welfare, they have said, “No sale of nicotine gums should be allowed in and around school premises as in the case of cigarettes and alcohol.”
Nicotine gum was introduced as a Nicotine Replacement Therapy Product to keep addicts away from cigarette smoking. But the fear now is that the product intended to curb addiction might itself become a product for substance abuse among children, especially boys aged between 10 and 18 years.
In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also added it to its essential medicines list, they claimed.
“While nicotine gum may be a help for those trying to drop the habit of smoking, our concerns lie with the marketing, advertising and easy availability of the gum, which we fear may lead to usage of these products by children,” said the child rights activists, in a letter addressed to the Minister of Health and Family Welfare U T Khader.
Dr Shalini Joshi of Karnataka State Council for Child Welfare said though children face a greater risk of nicotine poisoning, there is no statutory warning or pictures on these chewing gum packs like on cigarette packs.
“The gums available now are white in colour. But nicotine gums should be made in other colours like grey or black so that they are easily identifiable and parents can find out that their kids are using it,” she observed.
Former UNICEF coordinator for Department of Women and Child Development G Suchitra Rao, who has also signed the letter, said that the sale of this gum at counters should be immediately banned.
“Nicotine gum has very high addictive tendency and chewing gum is a common habit among children,” she said.
Comparing it with how whitener abuse is highly prevalent, especially among homeless children, Rao added that it is likely that it will automatically become substance abuse.
“Officials of the Department of Primary and Secondary Education should send out circulars to schools asking them to create awareness among children,” Dr Shalini suggested.
“Nicotine gums are available in several flavours at almost every large and little grocery and confectionery shop in Bangalore,” claimed the letter, citing the example of certain gums priced at `30 per pack of six and `50 for a pack of 10.
“There are very enticing half page advertisements in newspapers and huge billboards at major crossings promoting these gums,” the letter alleged.
“As it does not emit the offensive cigarette smell, parents may not be able to detect that the child is using the gum,” it noted.