New Delhi, It Is clear that the manufacturers of pan masala,packged chewing tobacco will not be able to use the ruse os selling the masala and the tobacco in two separate packs to be mixed by the consumer. The ban imposed by the Supreme Court earlier, will be strictly enforced.In a land mark order on 23.09.16, the Hon`ble Supreme Court while hearing the appeal filed by the manufacturers of pan masala, gutkha and chewing tobacco (zarda) against the State Government Notifications issued under the FSSAI Regulations banning pan masala, gutkha and chewing tobacco (zarda), directed the Chewing Tobacco Manufacturers to strictly comply with Regulation 2.3.4 of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulation, 2011, notified on 1st August, 2011 by FSSAI, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
The said Regulation 2.3.4. mandates prohibition and restriction on sale of food products having tobacco and nicotine as its ingredients and bans food products such as gutkha, pan masala, zarda, and other forms of chewing tobacco etc. for having tobacco and nicotine as its ingredients. This regulation had been upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013 but the tobacco industry had been by-passing the regulation by selling the ingredients of gutkha – pan-masala and chewing tobacco - separately as twin packs.
The Hon`ble Supreme Court had been hearing the matter from 1st September 2016 and tobacco industry under threat of its existence had deployed many of the senior-most counsels on the matter and were clearly trying to stall the proceedings. Even after 7 hearings the Court found that the parties wanted to submit more documents and the bench of Justice Gopal Gowda and Justice Adarsh Goel found themselves unable to conclude the matter. The matter was adjurned to 9th November 2016 however the Court issued an interim order which effectively shuts down the packaged chewing tobacco industry.
The Court acted on a plea from the Amicus Curiae, Gopal Subramaniam, who said that the manufacturers of chewing tobacco are circumventing the Supreme Court`s direction to implement gutkha ban by selling the same product in twin pouches, the Amicus also stated that today he is speaking for millions of users of chewing tobacco who are not before this court but our suffering (being afflicted with numerous disease) due to products manufactured by the petitioners.
Mr.Gopal Subramanium, along with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Advocate Sh. Ajit Sinha, brought to the notice of the Court para 21 of Government Affidavit, which stated:
“It is submitted that to circumvent the ban on the sale of gutkha, the manufacturers are selling pan masala (without tobacco) with flavoured chewing tobacco in separate sachets but often conjoint and sold together by the same vendors from the same premises, so that consumers can buy the pan masala and flavoured chewing tobacco and mix them both and consume the same. Hence instead of the earlier “ready to consume mixes”, chewing tobacco companies are selling gutkha in twin packs to be mixed as one.”
In order The Supreme Court has directed strict enforcement of the above Regulation 2.3.4., and asked the Health Secretaries of all states to file a compliance report by 9th November.
Welcoming the order, Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, surgeon and Professor at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai said that this order finally ends the gutkha industry which has led to an epidemic of oral cancers in the country.
Mr. Ranjit Singh, a noted lawyer, remarked that this is a landmark order which will plug the legal loop-holes the tobacco industry was using to bye-pass the ban on gutkha and continue to ply their trade.
Dr. Harit Chaturvedi, VoTV patron and Chairman Max Oncology said the order saying that we can now hope to see a decline in the fearsome rates of oral cancers sweeping our state. This order needs to be strictly enforced by the state government so that there is a real impact on the health of the citizens.