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Lies, lies, lies!" was the reverberating leitmotif of Sagarika Ghosh's Face the Nation on Wednesday night. With tonal variations like: "Why is he lying? He cannot lie!" And the threatening counterpoint: "I will show you, Sagarika! I have documents!" The man making this surreal music — who should have been facing it instead — must have hired a truck to get his mountain of paper to the studio. He produced documents for everything. Bet he could even have produced your credit card record and horoscope. Maybe mine, too.
But mostly, Sanjay Bechan, Executive Director of the Smokeless Tobacco Federation of India, was bursting with data about gutka and cigarettes. He needed the security blanket, facing an issue which has been smouldering since 2003, when the government joined battle with Big Tobacco by banning sales to minors. IBNLive's Face the Nation focused on the latest skirmish in this extended conflict, which is over gutka. Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Rajasthan and Goa banned the sale of gutka earlier this year. Now, Maharashtra has banned it along with pan masala, and Himachal Pradesh is expected to follow suit.
The battle against tobacco is desperately important in India, which faces a public health disaster. But the opening questions of this programme, pegged on the news that a village in Noida had imposed fines for selling and consuming gutka, were the least important: would banning gutka promote a black market and clandestine imports from permissive states, and is gutka being unfairly demonised to favour the cigarette industry?
Four-fifths of the guests were pro-ban - Amal Pushp, director of the National Tobacco Control Programme, Dr Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, Madhya Pradesh Food Commissioner Ashwini Kumar and Naveen Khanna, who suffers from oral cancer induced by gutka. The other fifth, Bechan, gave no quarter, waving his documents in everyone's face like flimsy battle standards. It was only halfway into the programme that the rest lost their patience and said it like it is.
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