Selling poison

October 15, 2019

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FOR years, health authorities have warned about the harmful effects of gutka — a chewing tobacco made of betel nut, lime water and other substances — that is widely consumed in powder form throughout the province of Sindh. Its use is particularly pervasive amongst the poverty-stricken coastal communities, even amongst small children, and is often used as an appetite suppressant or mild stimulant. The harmful habit — in fact, addiction — can only be described as a culturally acceptable choice of slow poison since a wide range of diseases have been linked to its use: mouth ulcers, oral submucous fibrosis and oral cancer in the most tragic instances. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, Pakistan has the second highest rate of oral cancer in the world, and it is also the most prevalent form of cancer amongst men in the country.

Keeping these harrowing realities in mind, the Sindh High Court slapped a ban on the sale and manufacturing of gutka and mainpuri across the province this August. All violations of this law will be registered under Section 337-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which criminalises those who cause ‘intentional’ harm to others. As noted by the high court at the time of passing the directive, this is not for the first time that the authorities have tried to push the provincial government to act against the sale and manufacture of such toxic products. Following the most recent stern orders, the Sindh Police claimed to have registered 211 cases against offenders across the province, predominately in the city of Karachi. They hope that this will act as a deterrent against the prevalent use of gutka and mainpuri products. While some have objected to the current move as being too ‘harsh’, one must keep in mind the harsh realities of such harmful products and the suffering they cause to the vulnerable sections of society, thus necessitating strict action. Keeping past failures in mind, however, one can only hope that the authorities can sustain the change this time around.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2019