The Delhi government's decision to ban gutka, a form of chewing tobacco, and related products has been widely welcomed though there is scepticism over how effective it will be with some already foreseeing a thriving black market.
A day after the Delhi government decided to ban the manufacture, sale, display, transportation and storage of chewing tobacco, used in products such as gutka, khaini and pan masala, people across various spectrums, including health activists, students, auto drivers and even cigarette vendors, said the ban would help save lives and would also clean up the streets.
With India having the highest prevalence of oral cancer and the small plastic packets of gutka being hideously available at kiosks across the country and city and at prices as low as one rupee, it was a move that was long overdue.
"By banning gutka, the Delhi government has demonstrated tremendous commitment towards safeguarding the health of people of India and protecting the masses, especially the youth from the growing menace of tobacco addiction," said Bhavna B. Mukhopadhyay, executive director of the Voluntary Health Association of India.
"This praiseworthy step will go a long way in saving lakhs of lives and also reducing the government spending on treating tobacco related diseases. This is a great example before other states," Mukhopadhyay told IANS.
"It is bad for health. Banning gutka and khaini will only be benefit many. The Delhi government took the right decision, even though belated," Riddhi, a Delhi University student, said.
Executive Rajendra Sharma, 55, agreed but expressed apprehension about the effectiveness of the ban.
"Chewing tobacco destroys the young. By the time they realise how bad it is, it is too late. So it is a very good step, but the point is how effective will be the implementation."
A cigarette vendor, who stocks gutka and did not want to be named, said candidly that "those who have to get gutka, will get gutka."
"There is always a black market," he said wryly.
Auto driver Dharam Choudhary, from neighbouring Faridabad, said gutka was banned in the Haryana town but they still managed to get it. "Sab jagah milta hai (you get it everywhere)," he said.
Choudhary added that gutka was not banned in Noida, since it was in Uttar Pradesh, but it happened to be part of the National Capital Region. "All we have to do is drive down to Noida," he said.
Even Dhaniya Devi, a daily wage earner, expressed scepticism.
Dhaniya Devi, who was chewing tobacco even while speaking to IANS, wondered whether it really had any negative effect.
"I have no idea if it is bad for health... If government decides not to sell it, what can we do. But I think it will be sold, maybe not openly but yes, it will be," she said.
The other 12 states to have banned chewing tobacco are Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Punjab, Chandigarh, Gujarat and Mizoram.
According to a recent report, 24.3 percent adults (40.9 percent males and 3.7 percent females) currently use some form of tobacco. Nearly 10.5 percent adults (16.7 percent males and 2.8 percent females) currently consume smokeless tobacco like gutka, khaini, zarda and other chewing tobacco products.
India has the highest prevalence of oral cancer globally, with 75,000 to 80,000 new cases of oral cancer in a year. Gutka sold in small pouches across the country has become a serious health hazard with its easy availability and low price. Given the taboo against smoking, it has also become popular with the youth and women.