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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Keep your kids away from nicotine gums

BANGALORE: Padma M (name changed), a resident of Koramangala and banker by profession, was shocked to see some children from her son's school walk with a nicotine chewing gum packet, which they had bought from a small shop near the institution. She later checked with her son studying in class 6, and to her horror, learnt that he too had consumed it once. It tasted like any other gum, the 11-year-old said.
Padma further asked some parents who said that their children had complained of dizziness after consuming the gum and had been warned not to have it again. Later, Padma took the help of a few child rights activists and lodged a complaint with the food safety commissioner.
After authorities banned the gutka, manufacturers are now pushing nicotine in the form of chewing gum. This despite food safety laws in India clearly prohibiting the sale of nicotine or tobacco in the form of food products. And the most vulnerable consumers of these illegal products happen to be kids.
Various brands of gum with attractive packaging are being sold in malls, super bazaars and even paan shops. Many such outlets are in the vicinity of schools. Gums are available at Rs 30 for a pack of 6 and Rs 50 for a pack of 10 chewing gums. And since they look similar to normal chewing gum, unsuspecting kids get hooked to them.
In fact, food authorities have received six such public complaints and related memoranda by child welfare activists seeking to keep nicotine-based chewing gum away from children. Following such complaints, the public health institute (a body under the directorate of health and family welfare) on March 3 issued an order to field officers to collect samples of such products and take necessary action against those violating the law.
The department order, dated March 3, 2014, a copy of which is with TOI, says they have received complaints against some organizations about the sale of chewing gums containing nicotine. "There is possibility of children consuming it and getting addicted to this food substance, resulting in ill-effects on children's health," adds the order.
Speaking to TOI, Dr Jaya Kumar, joint director (public health institute), said they have already warned the manufacturers against production. "We will also do random raids on shops and other outlets to ensure there is no sale of such products," he added.
A reality check by TOI in and around MG Road areas showed that nicotine gums were easily available in most shops. Also, shop owners had no idea that it could not be sold to kids.

Turning kids into addicts

Sindhu Naik, member, Karnataka State Council for Child Welfare, an NGO, said, "Consumption of nicotine gums can push children to nicotine addiction. Long-term use of such products can lead to regular cold, flu, shortness of breath, lung diseases and heart problems as well. Since gums don't emit the cigarette smell, parents or teachers may not be able to detect that the child is using it," she added. Dr S Raghu, a nutritionist, said parents should closely monitor what children eat outside school. "Effects of nicotine gum differ from one kid to another and age factor also matters. If the children complain about dizziness, vomiting sensation and so on, more questions should be asked about what they eat. Awareness among teachers and school authorities about the sale of such products within school zones is also a key factor," he added.
Banned but blatantly sold
Chewing gum is considered as food material under Column 3 j of Food Safety and Quality Act 2006. As per Sections 2.3.4 of the Rules of the said Act 2011, any food material containing nicotine and tobacco is banned in the state.
Pramodini K, a child welfare activist, says the problem is with monitoring. "A single department like health can't implement such rules. A multi-departmental approach, including education and police wings, is the need of the hour. And manufacturing companies too have found many ways to violate the law. In case of nicotine gums, even though the literature inside some packets warn of the adverse effects on children, there are no statutory warnings and pictures on these chewing gum packs unlike on cigarette packs.
TIMES VIEW
Children are most vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. It's appalling that after the gutka ban, manufacturers are resorting to seemingly innocuous methods to trap kids by selling nicotine-laced chewing gum. The health department's move to conduct regular raids on manufacturers and shops selling such products in the vicinity of schools is welcome but not enough. Schools must team up with parents and alert children on such negative influences. Authorities must also realise that without strong deterrents in place, manufacturers will find more inventive methods to make and peddle their products.