A national conference on tobacco was organised at the Tata Memorial Hospital where a cancer patient shared his views
The saying 'what goes around comes around' came perfectly true for Vijay Tiwari, who had a factory that manufactured flavours for gutkha at Uttar Pradesh. He used to sell adulterated substances and chemicals in the name of flavour (this is supposed to be a common practice in the industry) which were used by gutkha manufacturers and he himself got afflicted by oral cancer years down the line. Result: he shut his gutkha fragrance manufacturing business and switched over to producing ittar (perfumes).
Tiwari shared his story during the National Conference On Tobacco Or Health (NCTOH) which is going on at the Tata Memorial Hospital.
“We have been into this business since generations and I was introduced to gutkha at the age of 12. I used to taste gutkha to check if the flavour is good or not and gradually got addicted to it. Around 10 years ago, I started getting symptoms like blisters on the cheeks inside my mouth. I ignored them for sometime. I used to get them treated by my family doctor. It was only when these blisters started becoming very frequent that the doctor asked me to get some tests done and a biopsy revealed that I had cancer. And that was the day when I realised that gutkha has led me to this trouble. It also dawned upon me that I was also distributing a product that makes people vulnerable to cancer. And that is when I decided that I am not going to be a part of this industry which puts people's health at risk. I stopped manufacturing the fragrances and started producing ittar,” said this 52-year-old resident of Uttar Pradesh.
Tiwari was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and he changed his line of business in 2012.
Tiwari also revealed that the mention of the presence of kesar, elaichi and gulab in gutkha is all a farce and that it is chemicals that have similar smell that are used and not the real products.
“Real kesar costs Rs 1.6 lakh per kilo, elaichi costs Rs 19,000/kilo and rooh gulab costs Rs 12 lakh/kilo and the cost of the chemicals that smell like them ranges from Rs 25,000 (for rooh gulab), Rs 2,300 (kesar) and Rs 1,500 (elaichi) per kilo. So this is what is being used, else how can gutkha be sold at such cheap rates?,” said Tiwari who admitted that he too indulged in such adulterations till cancer struck him hard.
Today, Tiwari is a changed man. He has realised the value of life and the dangers of gutkha. He has realised that money is nothing compared to leading a healthy life. “I have kept my children away from this business which had been running since generations now. Turnover of the ittar company is definitely lower than the previous business but at least there is no danger to my life, my family's life or to the lives of the people I employ,” said Tiwari who has undergone six cycles of chemotherapy and 36 radiations and keeps coming to Tata hospital every month for check-ups.
NCTOH was organised by Salaam Bombay Foundation in collaboration with World Health Organisation, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Action Council against Tobacco, Healis - Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health and Tata Memorial Hospital. One of the highlights of the conference was that Global Smokeless Tobacco Report, compiled by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, USA, was also released.
According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey India (GATS India) 2009-10, more 35 per cent of adults in India used tobacco in some form or the other.
Among them, 21 per cent adults used only smokeless tobacco, nine per cent only smoke, and five per cent smoke as well as smokeless tobacco. Based on these, the estimated number of tobacco users in India was 274.9 million, with 163.7 million users of only smokeless tobacco, 68.9 million only smokers, and 42.3 million users of both smoking and smokeless tobacco. The prevalence of overall tobacco use among males was 48 per cent and among females 20 per cent, while the use of smokeless tobacco products among males (33 per cent) was higher than among females (18 per cent). The quit ratio for the use of smokeless tobacco use was five per cent.
The health ministry has passed a proposal to start a helpline called Quitline which will help people in their efforts to quit the habit of smoking and consuming smokeless tobacco. This soon to be launched helpline will be in Hindi and English.