Thiruvananthapuram, April 27 - It is bad news for those Malayalis who use smokeless tobacco -- in the form of 'gutka' and similar products -- as a research in the US has, for the first time, identified a specific oral cancer-causing chemical in smokeless tobacco products.
Dr. Silvia Balbo of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, US, found after a study on rats that smokeless tobacco products contain a strong oral carcinogen -- a chemical called (S)-N'-nitrosonornicotine, or (S)-NNN.
Dr. K.R. Thankappan, professor and head, Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, said though this study is yet to be translated on humans, it is a definite pointer to the grave risk that use of smokeless tobacco products poses to health.
"Oral cancer can be extremely debilitating and the use of smokeless tobacco that is fast gaining popularity among Malayali youth should be controlled through strict legislative measures," said Thankappan.
According to a recent study in Kerala, 10.7 percent of adult Malayali users are hooked to smokeless tobacco.
P. Janardhana Iyer, honorary secretary, Regional Cancer Association and a well-known tobacco control activist in Kerala said the sale and use of smokeless tobacco products should be strongly discouraged.
"This (US) study and the example set by Madhya Pradesh which has banned such products indicate the great dangers that these products pose to the society, particularly to the vulnerable young population," said Iyer.
Incidentally, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had last year written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting him to ban tobacco products in the country through a legislation.
The Kerala government has extended the ban on sale of tobacco products within a radius of 400 metres around educational institutions, thus extending the scope of Section 6(b) of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 2003.