New Avatar `No Nicotine, No Tobacco’ Gutka Sachet to Flood Market Soon
Companies adopting new ways to bypass the ban
The much hyped ban on gutka is back again and is hogging the limelight anew.
The Assam government, in its second symbolic attempt, has notified a complete ban on the manufacture, distribution, sale, transportation and display of gutka and paan masala containing tobacco and nicotine for a period of one year. Earlier, the products were banned in 2013 for a period of one year.
But the very nature of the ban raises several questions about the government’s seriousness to put an effective full stop to the purchase and consumption of gutka.
Earlier, on November 26, a prohibitory order was issued by the Food Safety Department, where under Regulation 2, 3, 4 of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulations, 2011 R/W Section 26 of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, prohibits food in which tobacco or nicotine are used as ingredients, as they are injurious to human health.
“In pursuance of Regulation of 2,3,4 of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulation, 2011, the manufacture, storage, transportation, display, distribution or sale of gutka, paan masala or any chewing material containing tobacco or nicotine as ingredients available in the market are hereby prohibited in the state of Assam for a period of one year under clause (a) of Sub-section 2 of Section 30 of Food Safety and Security Act, 2006 in the interest of public health with immediate effect,” the notification read.
However, strangely the notification does not spell out the penalty for violation. After the Supreme Court order in 2012 on complete ban on sale of gutka various state governments have followed suit but various research indicate that rampant sale of the product is on despite the order.
The components like tobacco were manufactured and sold in separate pouches after the ban. The law has provisions of imposing fines up to Rs 25,000 on the sale of products that are injurious to health.
Companies, however, are following the government orders and are not “officially” producing, selling or marketing gutka in the states where the product is banned.
The states that have banned gutka include Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Punjab, Goa and West Bengal.
Interestingly, the companies have already adopted a new way of selling their products by cleverly bypassing the ban. Instead of the earlier “ready-to-consume mixes,” companies are now selling gutka in a new avatar — chewing tobacco and paan masala are now sold in separate sachets.
“We are not worried about the ban....it has happened earlier also....many distributors have already started to make new sachets with a punch line “No Tobbaco, No Nicotine” which will flood the markets very soon,” a leading gutka and paan masala distributor told G Plus under condition of anonymity.
When the two packs are mixed, consumers get a substitute for gutka. This sales trick does not violate any law.
According to retailers in Guwahati, companies had recalled their gutka stocks immediately after the ban was implemented and replaced those with the fresh product mix and newly packed sachets.
Meanwhile, many companies are now planning to offer incentives to salespersons to boost sales of the new substitutes for gutka, according to an industry source. The incentives include cars and bikes, among others.
Clearly, the resultant impact will be that the products will be now sold at much higher prices than the maximum retail price.
Within a few days after states announced the ban, the Smokeless Tobacco Association, in collaboration with other industry bodies, had issued advertisements saying it was unfair to ban their products when the tobacco content in these was lower than that in cigarettes.
The advertisements mentioned that one pouch of gutka contained 0.2 gram of tobacco as against 0.63 gram in a cigarette.
Research showed that sale of gutka declined after the ban as 53.5 per cent consumers reported that they have shifted to other tobacco products.
But the gutka ban has been ineffective in the absence of stricter enforcement at producer, wholesaler and vendor level.
The financial angle of the ban is also huge. As per a report based on The Tobacco Institute of India, the total tax revenue collected from tobacco products is around Rs 40,000 crores annually.
Speaking to G Plus, one of the wholesale vendors of gutka and paan masala under condition of anonymity said, “We have heard about this through media only that it is banned for a year in Assam but whereas we are as of now getting good supply and demand from both the sides.”
“These were all political gimmicks earlier also as they tried to do such things but if they ban we will find alternative ways like the companies did earlier - gutka and paan masala in two different packets,” he added.
Allegedly a huge amount of revenue is being generated from the gutka companies in India with new companies joining the league in a routine manner and the amount of labour force involved, it will be difficult for the government to enforce it.
One consumer said, “This will be implemented for a day or two. I have seen this earlier also but yes if this time they are strict I think the habit cannot die in one day, hence I will eat zarda paan.”
There have been demands to ban gutka because of its association with oral cancer especially in India with 75,000 to 80,000 new cases emerging every year. India has the highest prevalence of oral cancer globally.
West Bengal government has also put a total ban on the manufacture, storage, distribution and sale of gutka and paan masala in the state for a year with effect from November 7.
With this it will be interesting to see how premium companies like the Dharampal Satyapal Group which also have a plant in Guwahati will survive this ban as people here like to consume their signature product “Rajnigandha” along with tobacco-based products like “Baba” and “Tulsi” zarda.
Celebrities Glam up to the Gutka League
The gutka industry over the last 15 years has gone from non-existent to having bottom lines in the hundreds of crores. They’ve done this by capturing the middle and upper-middle class through advertisements and celebrity endorsements.
Earlier the Delhi government had urged Bollywood actors not to endorse various brands of paan masala. The government wrote to actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Govinda and Sunny Leone, asking them not to do promotional advertisements for paan masala varieties, as they are known to contain ingredients which cause cancer.
Ajay Devgn, whose paan masala ads (Vimal paan masala) are doing rounds on TV regularly, has been asked to stop endorsing the brand.
Shah Rukh Khan also came into the list of people who received the letter, as the actor has also endorsed “Pan Vilas.”
Assam’s former tourism ambassador, Priyanka Chopra, is known to make a strong statement with her many brand endorsements. But one of the brands she endorses is Rajnigandha Silver Pearls.
Audience always needs to understand that when they see Ajay Devgn promoting Vimal Pan Masala or Priyanka Chopra promoting Rajnigandha Pearls, both of which don’t have tobacco or nicotine, that they are not just selling pearls, they are selling something else too – a brand name that’s also associated with tobacco-containing products. It is a strategy used by most companies, done with the aim to sidestep las that restrict the manufacture, sale, and advertising of these products.
The above makes it clear that the advertisements of plain paan masala are a surrogate for promotion of gutka bearing same brand name. The manufacturers have taken advantage of common community thinking that paan masala always has tobacco in it.
Gutka and smoking tobacco seized in Kaziranga
The Bokakhat sub divisional administration seized gutka and smoking tobacco from many shops in and around Kaziranga.
It is to be mentioned that earlier in November the Bokakhat administration had imposed a blanket ban on the storage, sale and distribution of gutka and paan masala in and around the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) for one year.
The sub-divisional magistrate of Bokakhat, Vivek Shyam, has imposed this ban in order to preserve the beauty of the Kohora Chariali area. The ban has come into immediate effect from November 6.
The notice stated, "Distribution, sale, consumption and disposing empty packets of paan masala, gutka, supari, zarda, tobacco and any such packaged supari-like substances within a radius 300 meters from Kohora Outpost is prohibited with immediate effect.”
Reportedly traders are still selling gutka and paan masala in the area illegally and the administration has launched operations to seize all the tobacco related products.