A healthy alternative to smokeless tobacco

Smokeless is not harmless.

As per various reports by WHO in 2019, worldwide tobacco industry is at 1.3 billion users. Chewing tobacco is a chief preventable cause of death from cancer and other diseases, yet there are more than 300 million tobacco chewing users globally with 82% being male. Key facts being that tobacco kills up to half of its users which is more than 8 million people each year; researchers have found that nearly 29 percent of these deaths were because of chewing tobacco.

There are around 232 million tobacco-users in India, of which 30 percent are into the habit of chewing tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco is chewed in the form of Paan Masala, Gutkha, Khaini, Dip and Chew in various countries. Due to lack of awareness, the consumers believe that they are obtaining benefits such as germicidal properties, mouth fresheners, digestive aids, mood enhancement, relief from tension, and oral cleansing. And before they realise that it is doing more harm than good, they become addicted to such substances.

How does chewing tobacco affect the body?

Tobacco products contain harmful amounts of Nicotine and nitrosamine derivatives which have the potential to produce free, reactive oxygen radicals. These can ultimately damage genetic material such as RNA & DNA, along with being able to potentially destroy cells that produce proteins to form the inner lining of our mouth – fibroblasts. 

This practice of consuming smokeless tobacco around the world can lead to OSMF – oral submucous fibrosis – a condition that is chronic and highly dangerous. This condition is further triggered by certain substances added to paan and gutkha, such as areca nuts, betel leaves, and slaked lime. These components can potentially trigger the fibrosis of the oral submucosal tissue.

OSMF persists for an extended period of time in the patient’s mouth and is characterized by extreme irritation and the slow, continuous fibrosis of not only the superficial but also the connective tissues that lie deep below. 

Prolonged chewing of tobacco and its products can lead to the formation and accumulation of carcinogenic factors such as N-nitrosonornicotine – which can lead to oral cancer. 

These smokeless tobacco products such as paan, gutkha, and zarda can be taken orally, chewed or sucked on, or applied to the teeth and gums. Recently, the World Health Organisation classified these smokeless products as carcinogenic substances that account for larger than 3/4th of the “N-nitroso compound” (NOC) burden in the human body.

These products are not only associated with cancers of the mouth as well as the pancreas but also cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions. Some studies have even reported associated detrimental effects on women’s reproductive systems. 

Areca nuts that are used along with tobacco products have stimulating effects that lead to a decrease in hunger, improved digestion, alertness, and depression on the nervous system that leads to relaxation. Gutkha has genotoxic properties which further increases the risk of oral cancer.

Cancer of the mouth is among the top ten types of cancer that dominate worldwide. Oral cancer accounts for 35% of cancer cases reported in India and the occurrence is higher in northern states such as Uttar Pradesh. Surprisingly, children, teenagers, and young adults comprise the smokeless tobacco consumer demographic. Despite the ban imposed on several of these substances, and various states banning the smokeless tobacco, they are sold openly in the black market.

Smokeless tobacco is associated with many health problems. Using smokeless tobacco:

  • Can lead to nicotine addiction
  • Causes cancer of the mouth, esophagus (the passage that connects the throat to the stomach), and pancreas (a gland that helps with digestion and maintaining proper blood sugar levels)
  • Is associated with diseases of the mouth
  • Can increase risks for early delivery and stillbirth when used during pregnancy
  • Can cause nicotine poisoning in children
  • May increase the risk for death from heart disease and stroke

Additionally, tobacco chewers also become deficient in Vitamin B12 & plasma pyridoxal phosphate (PLP), a co-enzymic form of vitamin B6.

How does chewing tobacco affect the mind?

Tobacco can affect the brain and cause a sense of well-being, alertness, happiness and heightened short-term memory in the user. All of these feelings, however, are fleeting, and as soon as the effects of tobacco wear off, the individual may experience depression, brain fog, among other things. The cycle of addiction continues and the user becomes completely dependent on the substance.

What are the withdrawal symptoms of chewing tobacco?

A person who is addicted to chewing tobacco can experience both physical and psychiatric symptoms. These symptoms may include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling restless and jumpy
  • Irritability
  • Increased hunger or weight gain
  • Slower heart rate
  • Constipation

What alternatives do smokeless tobacco chewers have?

While smokers have various options to choose from when they decide to quit smoking, chewing tobacco users don’t have any reliable or healthy alternative when trying to quit thus, they lack the plan of how and when to quit.

Those wanting to quit chewing tobacco are either prescribed behavioural counselling or medications. But those are hardly viable options for majority of population that uses chewing tobacco. Thus, they have to resort to other inexpensive alternatives like oral mouth fresheners full of additives, preservatives and added sugar that are harmful and may create further complications.

How does Bhookha Haathi fit in?

Bhookha Haathi has a vision for 2050, where it would want to reduce the consumption of tobacco by more than 50 percent. Also, there is a need to limit the consumption of unhealthy pan masalas and oral fresheners that are full of additives & preservatives and cannot claim to be 100 percent natural.

At Bhookha Haathi, we are constantly thinking of our consumers and looking for innovative ways to help them make healthier food choices through our alternative food products.

Our proprietary range of fennel flavoured dry fruit and nut-based mouth refreshers are a great alternative to tobacco & non-tobacco based harmful chewables and work well as digestives too.

Nuts are rich in plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fiber. Furthermore, they provide tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin. One of the main sources of ALA Omega-3 fatty acids, they help prevent diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

Nuts provide healthy fats that energize the body, protect the organs, protect the cells, regulate blood pressure and cholesterol, and help absorb nutrients. Further, they are a great source of vitamin B6 that most chewing tobacco users become deficient in.

Additionally, nuts are rich in phytochemicals that are helpful in stopping the formation of potential cancer-causing substances (carcinogenics) in the body.

Dry fruits such as raisins are a rich source of fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, and other essential nutrients, that provide an energy boost and enhance the overall taste.

In addition to providing flavour, fennel used in our dry fruit and nut-based refresher is packed full of nutrients, fiber, calcium, and other micronutrients that can help replenish the nutrients lost due to tobacco use and improve digestion too.

Why choose Bhookha Haathi dry-fruit and nut-based refresher as an alternative?

Based on scientifically derived ingredients, we have developed our product with a similar texture to pan masala in order to satisfy the brain in the same way as chewable tobacco and benefit the gut at the same time.

All these benefits and product experience can help the chewable tobacco addicts alleviate the withdrawal symptoms and make our dry-fruit and nut-based refresher the perfect alternative to chewable tobacco.

According to BJ Fogg, a behaviour scientist, behaviour is the result of 3 elements at the same moment: Motivation. Ability. Trigger.

While motivation is dependent on the person who wants to quit as he/she already knows the harmful effects, we assist him in his ability to take the desired step by providing him/her the option in an affordable rate. And finally, we are being the trigger for that individual by being in the same space as his/her regular chewable product so it becomes easier for that person to let go off the habit.

If you, or somebody you know have been trying to get rid of a persistent chewing habit, or simply want a healthier replacement for your regular, artificially sweetened mouth refresher, this is for you.

Written By: Kusum Bhandari
Kusum is a nutritionist, a designer, an artist, a great listener and a lifelong learner.

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