If you are up for the challenge then you might consider trying Gutka (Gutkha) or paan masala during your trip to India. I personally do not eat Gutka but sometimes would have some paan masala which is the same thing without the tobacco.
However I must warn you about these products!
Gutka and its other variant Paan Masala are unregulated and dangerous tobacco products in India that has seen increase in occurrence of oral and other forms of cancers. It is light brown colored powder which contains various chemicals besides tobacco. The easy availability of the sachets and its cheap price – a sachet may cost anywhere between Rs.2/- to Rs 10/- has seen its increase in consumption even by young children. Gutka is consumed by people for various reasons like:
- After meal digestive aid
- Mouth freshener
- Dealing with irregular eating habits due to work
- Too stay awake during night driving
- To not fall asleep during night shift at work
- To quit smoking
Unfortunately, those who try to quit smoking with the aid of gutka end up being addicts to both the harmful products.
Tobacco has been consumed in India from time immemorial in one form or other. Indians are the 4th largest consumers of tobacco and 3rd largest producer of the crop. The unhealthy crop has great influence on Indian economy. Though many countries use tobacco for manufacture of cigars and cigarettes, in India only 14% of the crop is used for making cigarettes. The rest is consumed as chewing tobacco, paan, snuff and in from of Bidis.
Paan masala and Gutka are initially consumed by people after heavy meals as mouth fresheners. Earlier the mixture of powdered areca nut, paan, tobacco, slaked lime and catechu would contain a lot of healing herbs which aided in dental care and digestion. Some of them contained energy boosters to help people build up stamina for heavy work. But as days went by, the consumption changed into mere stimulator which lent a kind of high to the consumer. With the change the benefits of the product died down and it became a great health hazard to the people who became addicted to it. Some people are known to consume as many as 25-35 sachets of gutka or paan masala everyday.
In 1976 some industrialists started manufacturing Gutka and Paan masala with mild stimulants on large scale. The product was made alluring with welcoming flavor and taste which was marketed in small sachets easy for purchase and intended for single use. Not many consumers knew about the additive property or health risks involved with consumption of Gutka or Paan masala back then. Most of the manufacturers misled the public by claiming they have added various spices and healthy herbs to the product whereas the ingredient was in negligible amount. The advent of the small sachets of Gutka and Paan masala which were openly advertised on TV saw a huge surge in its consumption and production. No one was bothered to find out how deadly the combination of tobacco and areca nut would be. The dangerous product containing alkaline pH 8.5-9, nicotine, nitrosamines, benzolapyrene, Cadmium, Lead, Nickel and Arsenic was voraciously consumed by people of all ages who were unaware of its ingredients.
It was only when the matters went out of hand did the government of India realize that the products are highly carcinogenic and have addictive influence on the consumer similar to drug and alcohol. Though the powder is light in color, it turns deep red when combined with saliva which slowly stains the lips and teeth. It is known to cause a mild ecstasy while being chewed which makes the consumer yearn for it more and more. Often Paan masala is said to be free of tobacco unlike Gutka, but the claim stands to be verified by research.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has warned all the manufacturers of tobacco product to have warning regarding health issues due to its consumption. The Gutka sachets have a small invisible warning in English which cannot be understood by many consumers. What is more worrisome about the product is its consumption by young children, especially in South Asia. Gutka has become more common addictive among teens than chewing tobacco ever was.
Following the footsteps of parents or trying to be a part of the peer group, children often end up becoming addict to the harmful product. Medical practitioners are concerned with the high rise of OSF (oral submucous fibrosis) commonly known as lock jaw among young consumers of Gutka, which is painful condition leading to oral cancer in future. Some of the children are unable to open their mouth more than an inch. Youngsters who have been exposed to Gutka are most likely to become addictive smokers in future.
The present awake politicians of India are trying to curb the menace of Paan Masala and Gutka by various means and an outright ban on it. The addicts and money hungry manufacturers are finding loopholes and marketing it secretly though. It will take a lot of awareness program and will of the consumers to put an end to this unhealthy, stimulating and addictive product.
You can buy Gutka and paan masala in a paan stall and other smaller shops called “kirana stores”.