While the ban on gutka and pan masala is being implemented in full force, other issues such as blackmarketing and alternative addictive substances have become a cause for concern for enforcement agencies and the Health Department.
Among the biggest fears is the possible hoarding of the illegal pan masala and its sale in the black market at high prices.
Recently, the Food Safety and Standards Authorities seized around 250 kilograms of illegal pan masala from a house in a residential area in Ayanavaram. According to officials, the estimated value of the stock is around Rs 1 lakh. The price would have been much higher, had it found its way to the black market.
“We are taking all possible measures to ensure that there is no hoarding. Four teams have been formed in the city, for the North, South, East and Western parts, to check the illegal storage of pan masala and gutka. In this first phase, we are seizing and destroying the illegal products and serving notices on the shops and the persons concerned. In the coming days, the offenders will face stiff penalties,” says a senior official with the Food Safety and Standards Department.
Health experts say that as per previous experience in other areas, a ban on addictive substances often leads to high demand.
“Immediately after a ban on an addictive substance, there is usually a surge in the demand. This is especially true in the case of chewable tobacco, since the addiction is almost twice as that of cigarettes. The demand can take the form of an increase in black marketing. But, if we are able to direct these consumers to tobacco cessation units, it would be a great step forward in bringing down the addiction rates,” says Prasanna Kannan, WHO Consultant, State Tobacco Control Unit.
Kannan adds that though there is a short-term increase in demand, in the long run the demand is bound to reduce in the lack of availability and the high prices of black market products.
Another concern here is that people who have been used to the chewable tobacco addiction might take to other alternatives.
“Due to sudden unavailability of pan masala and gutka, consumers may take to alternative tobacco products like cigarettes. As such it is important that those who have weaned away from the chewable tobacco are given help so that they do not fall into the trap of another tobacco product,” Kannan adds.
The State Tobacco Control Unit has strengthened its training and awareness programmes.
Pan vendors hope that their tobacco customers will revert to non-tobacco products like sweet pan.
“After the ban, our daily sales has gone down by 50 percent. The customers who take to tobacco-based pan or gutka are not satisfied with anything else and roam around from one shop to the other in search of it. Hopefully these people will take to alternatives like sweet paan, otherwise it will be difficult to run the business,” says a vendor in Vepery.