GUWAHATI, Aug 8 � More than a month after Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi interacted with patients with oral cancer and pledged his support to restrict sales of chewing tobacco in the State, no visible steps have been taken to stop the menace. The irony is accentuated by the fact that although the prices of some chewing tobacco products have been hiked, they continue to attract buyers, many of whom are minors.
In a meet with oral cancer patients, doctors and tobacco control advocates on July 2, the Chief Minister had extended his support to the campaign against chewing tobacco such as gutkha and khaini stating that as the head of the State it was his responsibility to safeguard the health of all people. However, that stand has had no effect in any part of Assam, and chewing tobacco in various forms continues to be sold without any restrictions whatsoever even close to school and college campuses.
The campaign against tobacco products has repeatedly highlighted the risk of cancer to consumers, and in North East India, research has shown that high incidence of oral cancer is linked to chewing tobacco. There are 3095 chemical components in tobacco, of which 28 are proven carcinogen. Tobacco chewing causes cancer of mouth, oesophagus, larynx, pharynx, pancreas and stomach, among other organs.
Campaigners who have supported ban on chewing tobacco point out that even though the menace of chewing tobacco has been recognized, authorities in Assam, unlike those in some other States, have refrained from taking strong steps against an array of tobacco products. Economic considerations appear to have marginalized health concerns in the present situation, some campaigners believe.
Director of Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute Dr AC Kataki has often underlined the need to curb the access young people have to tobacco products. He says that the habit of chewing tobacco can start early, and hence intervention also needs to start early. Besides, tobacco products can harm a young child in ways which are highly life threatening.
What the concerned public finds distressing is that in Guwahati, and in most other places, shopkeepers have no hesitation in selling tobacco products to children. �I have seen even students in uniform buy tobacco products from shops, which is a great danger for society,� said Siddhartha Barua, an advocate and a resident of Silpukhuri. It needs to be ensured that children cannot buy gutkha from shops, if the menace of tobacco consumption is to be stopped, he said.
Campaigners against tobacco consumption have also urged school and college authorities to take necessary action against tobacco use. Heeding this call, some institutions in Guwahati have declared their campuses as tobacco-free zones, but many others are yet to follow suit.