The Navhind Times Archive

Cancer Spreads Quietly As FDA Sleeps Soundly

Though the state has prohibited manufacture, sale, distribution and consumption of tobacco and products containing tobacco extracts such as gutkha long ago to prevent spread of cancer, their sale continues. Thanks to the lack of enforcement by the health department and the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), they are easily available in stores and kiosks across the state. The authorities want Goans to believe that since these products have been banned they are not available. The reality is gutkha is available in sachets in the kiosks outside the Goa Medical College Hospital! But the health department and the FDA are playing blind to it. The FDA has carried out just two raids in the past three years. Both the raids were carried out in September 2017. In a raid at Pollem in the Canacona taluka the FDA seized 200 bags of tobacco products; in another at Saligao in the Bardez taluka they seized 1.5 kg of tobacco products.

Research has shown that consumption of gutkha can cause vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. It can also cause chest pain, high or low blood pressure and irregular heartbeats. Chewing tobacco can cause burning and mouth dryness and harm to mouth and gums. It can damage the food pipe. Oral cancer is a common occurrence. Smoking damages lungs and heart. Research has shown that consumption of smokeless tobacco, such as zarda, areca nuts and slaked lime which are used in paan and gutkha, leads to oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF), which is a long-lasting and devastating condition of the oral cavity with the potential for malignancy. It has been conclusively proven that use of chewing tobacco and other smokeless tobacco products increases the risk of oral cancers like that of mouth, throat, cheek, gums, lips or tongue. Availability of these substances has to be completely prevented in Goa in the larger public interest.

Both the wholesalers and retailers of tobacco and tobacco products have obviously no fear of the FDA. Nor are consumers afraid of anyone. If the FDA director ever takes the trouble of walking down the streets with her eyes downwards she can find scores of empty sachets of gutkha thrown by consumers. There are paan shops in many parts where tobacco of big and small companies are available to consumers. Paan masala, which is not included in the list of banned products so far, is also sold in Goa and many students are addicted to it.  According to FDA officials, paan masala has not been checked for content of tobacco, though some manufacturers of paan masala do caution consumers that its consumption was injurious to health. There have been cases of food pipe damage owing to consumption of paan masala.

The FDA is responsible for protecting the health of citizens by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products and medical devices. It has the responsibility of ensuring the safety of food supply, cosmetics and products that emit radiation. It also has responsibility for regulating the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products to protect the public health and to reduce tobacco use by minors. But going by the fact that it has made only two seizures in the state in the past three years, we are compelled to conclude that the FDA has is not doing its work. Goans at large cannot be blamed if they infer from the non-action of the FDA that there is a quiet patronage given to the wholesalers and retailers of tobacco and tobacco products.  Even if they were to assume that there is no regular bribery of health and FDA authorities involved, they would find it hard to forgive them for sleeping while the forces causing spread of cancer among people of all ages are going ahead with their trade in hazardous substances. What are the health department and the FDA doing anyway? They are allowing fish from other states without full check. They are allowing fruits from other states without any check. They are allowing sweets and grocery goods to be sold without checking them for adulteration. They are allowing tobacco and tobacco products to be sold without any checks. On one hand, the health department wants to take credit for working to give better services for treatment of cancer, and on the other it allows traders in cancer-causing substances to freely sell them through retailers. The more cancer spreads, the bigger has to be the set-up for cancer treatment, which means the government has to allocate more funds. Why does not our government remember that the better the prevention, the lesser the health budget?

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