Gutka is a preparation of betel nuts and tobacco designed to be chewed. It originated in the Indian Subcontinent, where its consumption is widespread today, and spread from there to areas with a large Indian population. Like other tobacco products, gutka is potentially addictive and cancerous, and in India, some moves have been made to attempt to restrict its availability to address health concerns.
In addition to betel nuts and tobacco, gutka also includes an extract of acacia called catechu, and slaked lime, which is designed to catalyze a chemical reaction when gutku is chewed, releasing alkaloids in the blend to make it more powerful. It is also usually blended with spices and seasonings, which can make it sour, hot, or sweet. Sometimes, traditional Ayurvedic herbs are used to give gutka an illusion of respectability, and sweet flavorings are often designed to appeal specifically to children.
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Classically, gutka comes in the form of a loose powder that is inserted into the mouth, chewed, and eventually spat out. Like other betel nut chews, it is highly staining, leaving a characteristic reddish to orange stain on the lips, tongue, and teeth, and it also stains the streets and sidewalks when people spit it out. Gutka is also extremely addictive, and thanks to the tobacco content, it can contribute to the development of oral and throat cancers.
One of the biggest groups of gutka users is children, especially in impoverished neighborhoods. It is also used by people who are trying to quit smoking, or individuals who wish to avoid the social consequences of smoking. Many users are unaware of how addictive gutka can be, and they are greatly surprised when they attempt to give up the habit. It is also a mild stimulant, making it appealing to students, shift workers, and other people who may have trouble staying awake sometimes.
Although gutka is largely unregulated in India, many officials became concerned about widespread use of the substance in the early 2000s, and for a brief period of time, there was actually a ban on it. Regulation of gutka will probably focus on making it harder for children to obtain, and encouraging labeling to indicate its carcinogenic and addictive properties. In some regions of India, education campaigns have been launched to teach children about the dangers of chewing it, but such programs primarily reach children who are actively in school, excluding children who lack access to education.