Gutka is a preparation of crushed betel nut, tobacco, and sweet or savory flavorings. It is manufactured in India and exported to a few other countries. A mild stimulant, it is sold across India in small, individual-size packets. It is consumed much like chewing tobacco, and like chewing tobacco it is considered responsible for oral cancer and other severe negative health effects.
Gutkha is a powdery, granular light brownish to white substance. Within moments, the gutkha begins to dissolve and turn deep red in color. It imparts upon its user a “buzz” somewhat more intense than that of tobacco.
Used by millions of adults and children. Some packaging does not mention tobacco as an ingredient, some are chocolate-flavored, and some are marketed as breath fresheners.
Gutkha use can begin at a very young age. Due to its often flavorful taste, easy availability and cheapness, it is popular with poor children, who can exhibit precancerous lesions at a very early age as a result. Symptoms of cancer often appear by high school or college age. Social custom does not permit children in India to smoke cigarettes, so gutkha use, being all but invisible to others, is the method of choice. Gutkha is also used by many as an alternative to cigarettes and is claimed to curb the need to smoke but eventually becomes another tough to quit habit.
In 2008 about 5 million children under 15 are addicted to guthka. A survey in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh yielded precursor of mouth cancers in 16 percent of the children.
Highly addictive and a known carcinogen, gutkha is currently the subject of much controversy in India. Many states have sought to curb its immense popularity by taxing sales of gutkha heavily or by banning it outright.
Excessive gutkha use can eventually lead to loss of appetite, promote unusual sleep patterns, loss of concentration etc along with other tobacco related problems.
A gutkha user can easily be identified by a prominent stained teeth ranging from mild yellowish-orange to reddish-black. The stains are difficult to remove by normal brushing and usually need the attention of a dentist.
After gutkha is consumed, it is generally spat onto a wall or the ground, causing an unsightly red stain that is quite resistant to the elements. Some building owners have taken to combating this unpleasantness by painting murals of gods on their walls, with the idea that gutkha-chewers would not spit on a god.
On 1 August 2002, Maharashtra State took the unusual step of placing a five year ban on all use of gutka, an active black market persisted till the time the High Court of Judicature at Mumbai overturned the order on the grounds of unfair trade practice.