Health

Poor labelling of chewing tobacco hides risks

Pre-packaged 'paan masala' pouches
Image caption Many paan masala products fail to carry warnings that they contain tobacco

More than 80% of chewing tobacco products sold in England do not comply with legislation, according to a report seen by BBC News.

The Race Equality Foundation together with the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) foundation found that only 15% of such products are sold with relevant health warnings or adequate labelling.

Many chewing tobacco products do not even state if they contain tobacco.

People may be consuming harmful ingredients without knowing it.

Amanda Standford, head researcher at ASH, says there needs to better regulation of the products.

''We need there to be an audit of all the products that are out there and then they need to be labelled according to current legislation.

"That way consumers are at least better informed about whether it is safe or not to use them.''

Health risk

Image caption Tobacco, areca nut, spices and rose petal preserve are wrapped in a betel leaf

Chewing tobacco is a popular form of smokeless tobacco and use is prevalent among South Asian communities.

The products, typically imported from India and Bangladesh, traditionally contain a mix of areca nut, betel leaf, various flavourings and spices along with tobacco.

The ingredients may be combined together and sold pre-packaged.

Products that are popular among South Asians include 'gutkha' and 'paan masala' - which is usually used as a mouth freshener, and is available both with or without tobacco.

They are inexpensive and easily accessible in areas with large Asian communities.

However, there is little regulation surrounding chewing tobacco products as compared to cigarettes.

Hard to quit

Chewing tobacco is highly addictive and has been associated with an increased risk of mouth cancer, gum disease, and heart disease amongst users.

Farhana Rejwan, from east London, has been chewing tobacco wrapped in betel leaf for over 50 years and has struggled to give it up.

"My teeth have turned black from all the tobacco and my gums are really painful. I tried to quit a few years ago, but it was really difficult and I started up again,'' she says.

Farhana has now enrolled on a programme with the Bangladeshi Stop Tobacco project to help her quit.

"I'm trying to stay busy, because I mostly chew when I'm bored. I've been doing it all my life so it's going to be difficult to stop, but I'm trying."

Many Bangladeshi women like Farhana are addicted to chewing tobacco.

In England, the highest proportion of self-reported use of chewing tobacco is among Bangladeshi women, at 19%, followed by Bangladeshi men at 9%.

Chewing tobacco is embedded in many aspects of South Asian culture and traditions.

However, there are many misconceptions regarding the health risks associated with using chewing tobacco products.

Jabeer Butt, Deputy Chief Executive of the Race Equality Foundation, hopes that the findings of the report will lead to better regulation of smokeless tobacco products.

"There is an urgent need to improve both compliance and enforcement of regulation.

"It is important that we protect minority ethnic communities from the health risks associated with using these products.''

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