Maha FDA lifts ban on sale of flavoured ‘supari’; doctors, activists irked

After becoming the first state in India to ban flavoured supari (areca nut), Maharashtra Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has rolled back the ban on July 17. In 2004, the World Health Organization had classified areca nut or betel nut as carcinogenic to humans even without the addition of tobacco to it.

Maha FDA lifts ban on sale of flavoured ‘supari’; doctors, activists irked

In what is considered to be a major setback to the on-going anti-tobacco campaign in the country, the Maharashtra’s Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) have issued a new notification allowing the sale of flavoured supari or areca nut which was banned in the state since 2012.

The notification dated July 17 has created a shocker among public health experts and doctors as they say it is a major blow to the anti-tobacco campaign and a victory for Gutka and tobacco industry lobby.

The state government has appointed one-member committee to look into the ban which was imposed on flavoured areca nut in 2012. The notification, which has been signed by FDA commissioner Dr Pallavi Darade, mentioned that on the basis of the recommendation of the committee, necessary orders on sale of areca nut will be issued.

“Every year we issue notification regarding the ban on tobacco products. The procedure has been followed this year too. The ban on Gutkha, Bidi, Mawa and cigarette has been continued. Whereas, we have sent a recommendation to state government to revoke the ban on flavoured supari (areca nut). Government has formed a member committee to review the matter. The decision to continue ban on flavoured Supari areca nut will be after committee’s report,” Chandrakant Salunkhe Joint Commissioner Food and Drug Administration Mumbai told My Medical Mantra.

Upset over the roll back Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital, said, “The World Health Organization (WHO) and several studies in India have proven, beyond doubt, that Pan Masala causes serious health hazards, including mouth and throat cancer. Time and again, for the last 5 years, all the research material has been submitted to the FDA. Our state is bound to become a laughing stock if Pan Masala ban isn’t continued.”

Maharashtra was the first state to ban Gutka and Pan Masala in July 2012 under the Food Standards and Safety Act (FSSA), 2006. In the following year, the state expanded the embargo and banned khaini (flavoured tobacco), supari (processed betel nut) and mawa or kharra (a mix of processed tobacco, betel nut and lime).

The ban was later challenged by the Gutka industry in Mumbai High Court, but they did not get any relief. The ban on Pan Masala was brought in force because of special power given to the Food Commissioner by the Food Safety Act to ban a harmful substance maximum for a period of one year.

Buoyed by the success of the ban, successive FDA Commissioners renewed the notification and extended the ban on flavored supari (without tobacco). However, this ban was renewed along with a new notification each year.
On July 1, 2016, activists and doctors working on anti-tobacco ban had petitioned Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to ban flavoured supari permanently and to enforce the ban strictly.

The group included Director, Tata Memorial Hospital; as many as 27 Oncologists of Maharashtra Cancer Warriors, Dean, Governmental Dental College; President of Indian Medical Association; Secretary, Indian Dental Association; CPAA, Salaam Bombay foundation; V Care etc.

“The epidemic of mouth cancer cannot be curtailed without a comprehensive prohibition of selling these lethal products freely as packaged mouth fresheners. We sincerely request that Maharashtra CM and FDA look into the matter and to continue the ban on these smokeless tobacco and supari products to prevent premature deaths in our country,” said Dr Ashok Dhoble, Secretary of Indian Dental Association.

Tshering Bhutia of Salaam Bombay Foundation wrote to CM, “In Maharashtra, the health of children and youth has been benefited by the ban on pan masala. We have been working in 15,000 zilla parishad schools and 220 schools in Mumbai. Please make it permanent.”

While the latest Global Adult tobacco survey (GATS) says, the prevalence of tobacco use in India has fallen from 34.1% to 28.6%, the GATS 2010 said that 27.6% of the Maharashtra’s adult population was chewing tobacco (jarda, khaini, mava, kharra, masheri, gudakhu, Paan, Gutka, and Pan Masala). In terms of absolute numbers, nearly 2 crore people were using smokeless tobacco. Most of the consumers use smokeless tobacco along with supari (betel nut). This is causing epidemic proportion of fatal diseases such as heart attack and stroke apart from cancers. Mouth cancer is the commonest cancer in men in Maharashtra due to rampant supari chewing habit.