Kolkata, Oct 2 (IANS) Even though 14 states have banned 'gutka', a tobacco-laced chewing mix, West Bengal, with 21.9 percent of its population addicted to smokeless tobacco, is in no hurry to follow suit.
"The chief minister (Mamata Banerjee) has earlier raised concern over the issue and expressed willingness to ban gutka. To implement a ban, we need to pass a legislation which will take time," state Health Minister Chandrima Bhattacharyya told IANS.
"The health department alone cannot impose a ban. The decision has to be made by the cabinet," she said.
"The government is aware about the ill effects of gutka and is seriously considering banning it. But it will take time. There are procedures to follow and it cannot be done in a hurry," Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee told IANS.
According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2009-10, 36.3 percent of Bengal's population, with 52.3 percent males and 19.3 females, are tobacco users.
It says 25.8 percent of males and 17.8 percent of females are addicted to smokeless tobacco, mostly gutka.
A public interest litigation has been filed before the Calcutta High Court by Doctors For You (DFY), an NGO, seeking a ban on gutka.
"Despite having scientific information that such products cause cancer, the government has failed in its constitutional duty to protect the health of the general public," Rajat Jain of DFY told IANS.
"In Bengal, tobacco addicts are initiated into this habit at the ages of 18-19. Although over 85 percent of adults believe that smoking and smokeless tobacco products cause serious diseases, most tobacco addicts are unable to quit because these products are freely available," he said, quoting GATS.
Fourteen states, including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, have banned the sale, manufacture and distribution of 'gutka' under the Food Safety and Standards Regulations (2011) that bans food articles containing tobacco.
Assam, Tamil Nadu and Odisha are considering prohibiting gutka.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court has also issued a notification for ban on gutka in the state.