Beyond Gutka: Evidence of Illegal Smokeless Tobacco in Rural and Semi-urban Areas in India

Nicotine Tob Res. 2022 Apr 28;24(6):929-932. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntab251.


Introduction: Gutka, a popular smokeless tobacco (SLT) product combining chewing tobacco, areca nut, and spices, was banned by states in India beginning in 2012. Gutka can be recreated by the user mixing twin packets of tobacco and spice mixtures. We examine the availability of premixed gutka, the sale of twin packets (chewing tobacco and spice mixture sold together but in separate packets) and whether SLT was sold without legally mandated health warning labels (HWLs), without the printed maximum retail price (MRP), and above the MRP.

Aims and methods: In October/November of 2017, unique SLT packets were purchased using a systematic protocol in 25 localities with populations under 50 000 across five Indian states. Purchase information (location, twin packets, price paid) and packaging information (SLT type, printed MRP, type of HWL) were used to assess legality.

Results: Of the 240 purchases of unique SLT packets, three were premade gutka. Twin packets were half of the sample, sold in every state, and illegally sold in Maharashtra where they were banned. Over half (62%) of single packets and 27% of twin packets did not feature a legal HWL. While only 5% of packets did not have a printed MRP, 29% of single packets, and 38% of twin packets were sold illegally for more than the MRP.

Conclusions: SLT without the proper HWL or sold above the MRP were common. Twin packets were widely available. India should consider a country-wide restriction to ban single serving tobacco packets that would decrease affordability.

Implications: This study is the earliest and that first outside of Mumbai that we are aware of to present evidence of tobacco products being sold above the MRP in India. While finding little evidence of premade gutka being sold, we found twin packets (chewing tobacco and spice mixture packets sold together) are widely available even in Maharashtra, which has a policy in place to ban twin packets. This study also finds evidence of SLT products sold without the correct HWL and without a MRP listed which shows that implementation and enforcement of regulations are as important as passing regulations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Nicotiana
  • Tobacco Industry*
  • Tobacco Products*
  • Tobacco Use
  • Tobacco, Smokeless*