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This is a form of chewing tobacco which originated in India (its name is Hindi for a small piece or shred). It is made more attractive by adding sweeteners, flavourings and nuts; as a result, it has been taken up by young people in particular. Gutkha is becoming common in parts of Britain where Asian immigrants live. Here it seems to be aimed even more at young people than it is in India; it has been claimed that packets sold in Britain lack the health warnings that by law must accompany other tobacco products. Gutkha began to appear in India several years ago, and has caused concern among health workers and educators because of the high risk of mouth cancer; pre-cancerous lesions have been reported in the mouths of children as young as twelve. Various attempts have been made in India to limit its sale or to tax it as a luxury good. A campaign has been launched in Britain, supported by the British Dental Health Foundation and the World Health Organisation, to make people aware of its dangers.

The massive hike on sales tax on gutkha (flavoured chewing tobacco) in Goa has sparked a controversy. The Congress government is caught between the contradictory demands of the gutkha dealers and the anti-tobacco citizens’ groups.

Rediff on the Net, Apr. 1998

“Children are tempted to consume gutkha either by friends or the local panwalla, who might offer the first few sachets free of cost,” said another student, Ms Mridula Palat. “Nowadays, gutkha sachets are available for as cheap as 50 paise, which is the price of a toffee”.

The Times of India, Mar. 1999

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 3 Apr. 1999

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Last modified: 3 April 1999.