Kids getting hooked on ‘pan masala’, 30/01/10

KUALA LUMPUR: A snack packed in attractive sachets is becoming a hot favourite among schoolchildren and youths.

Some of them were also said to be addicted to the titbit.

But little do they know that the “sweet biscuits” are a sweetened mixture of tobacco, betel and catechu.

Recently, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai had warned schoolchildren and youth against buying the paan parag pan masala, also known locally as “guthka”.

He said he had been informed that guthka was very addictive and contained carcinogens.

“I had received a lot of complaints from parents since late last year that their children were becoming addicted to this product.

“It is sold openly outside school compounds and in retail shops,” he told the New Straits Times.

He said pan masala was a mixture of nuts, seeds, herbs and spices which was usually served after meals in India.

“Various versions of pan masala are also found as mouth fresheners in the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia.

“One version of pan masala, that is the guthka, has tobacco as one of its ingredients,” he added.

Consumption of this product is said to have reached dangerous levels in India.

“I must warn that chewing tobacco has been linked with various cancers, especially mouth cancers,” he added.

Although the product was used by many as a mouth freshener, Liow said it was not meant for schoolchildren and college students.

Health enforcement officers in all states had been ordered to go on the ground and nab those selling them.

While those who bought the product could be slapped with a RM1,000 fine, those who were caught selling it would be charged under the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004, where they are liable to a fine of RM10,000 or two years’ jail.