FOR a type of potentially fatal yet easily preventable disease, and one that often causes terrible disfigurement, oral cancer continues to afflict a shocking number of people in this country. According to latest figures by the World Cancer Research Fund, Pakistan ranks second in the list of countries with the highest incidence of this disease. In fact, oral cancer is the most common type of cancer among men in Pakistan. The consumption of gutka, mainpuri and other concoctions of chewing tobacco that is prevalent in certain sections of society — mainly in Sindh — is largely to blame for the statistics. On Wednesday, the Sindh High Court ordered a province-wide crackdown against the manufacturers and sellers of these noxious substances. Interestingly, this was in response to an order by a district and sessions judge who ruled — in a departure from all facts to the contrary — that gukta and mainpuri did not fall under the ambit of sections of the Pakistan Penal Code that deal with acts “likely to spread infection or disease dangerous to life”. The SHC has rightly underscored that the sale and manufacture of chewing tobacco preparations is illegal.
However, many such crackdowns have been ordered and proved ineffectual in the past. Several factors impede effective compliance — apathy, ignorance and local financial stakes in a hugely lucrative racket. Local administrations turn a blind eye, or at the very least do not bestir themselves to act effectively. Of course there are periodic raids by police here and there, and a few individuals hauled up every few weeks, but soon enough, it is business as usual. Many lower cadre cops are themselves ‘stakeholders’ in small ‘factories’ situated in low-income localities where everyone, including children, has easy access to these lethal concoctions. The provincial administration must expedite the passage of legislation dealing specifically with the manufacture and sale of gutka and mainpuri, and considerably enhance punishment for those involved in it. Moreover, it must devise an effective mechanism to prevent this game of whack-a-mole.
Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2019