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What is Gutka?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 23, 2024

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.

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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon356791 — On Nov 28, 2013

It's very bad and very addictive. My father has been using tobacco since he was 15, and now he is 75. He uses tobacco.in his pan, and he has 20 pans every day!

I also started using RMD over three years ago. I just can't quit. It's very hard for me. Now I have severe problems with my gums and teeth.

By anon355784 — On Nov 19, 2013

Can I get the stats relating to consumption of guthka in India?

By anon341516 — On Jul 12, 2013

Does it stain your teeth if you use it just once? Does it do anything bad if you do it once? Do you get addicted straight away?

By anon337548 — On Jun 06, 2013

Chewing Gutkha is a bad habit I agree, but I also eat the same. It is compulsory for me to eat every 30 to 40 minutes, but I eat it also during the night. I woke up once in the night, standing on my balcony and I had eaten one pouch. I also wish that I could quit it, but I can't.

By anon337547 — On Jun 06, 2013

I have been eating Gutkha and Paan since 1990 and now I eat at least 15-20 tobacco items per day. Sometimes I eat Paan, and sometimes I eat Gutkha and sometimes I eat tobacco. I also can't drive my vehicle properly when I do not chew such types of things.

My favorite Gutkha is Tulsi Royal and My Paan Is Calcutta 120. In an emergency I'll eat RMD in black only because the government has banned Gutkha Rmd costing is Rs 20 per pouch. Tell the government to stop banning this Everyone should eat Gutkha and live healthy like us who are eating Gutkha.

By anon336694 — On May 30, 2013

Well, chewing Gutka does not cause cancer. If so, even cigarette smoking causes cancer, but the governments are adamant in banning Gutka. There is a well staged campaign to ban gutka to promote cigarettes. There is a vested interest involved in this plot.

By anon325940 — On Mar 19, 2013

Just quit chewing gutkha and smoking and hit the gym. Be strong man. Gym helps you break the bad habit and it motivates you.

By anon323565 — On Mar 06, 2013

I like gutka so much. It's yummy and good for health. I chew gutka 20 packet in a day. I have used it for 15 years and my health is so good. Please chew gutka if you want good health and success in life. The Kamla Pasand is the best gutka ever I ate.

By anon163610 — On Mar 28, 2011

it's very good. it increases alertness.

By turquoise — On Mar 11, 2011

I know that it's bad. But I have the habit of chewing paan and sometimes gutka after meals. It's just something that I have to do. Otherwise I feel as though something is missing and I feel uncomfortable. It's the same thing as people who have sweets or tea or coffee after meals. I don't know when it became a habit exactly. But I know many people who have a paan once a day or once in two days that are completely healthy. I wonder how long it takes to start suffering from side effects or having health problems. Isn't there a safe amount we can have without getting cancer?

By burcidi — On Mar 11, 2011

Betelnut and gutka is just as bad as smoking cigarettes. Some people think that chewing tobacco is not as dangerous as smoking but it's not true. My dad is a doctor. He has told me so much about patients who have stomach cancer, throat and mouth cancer from chewing tobacco. Gutka's worst side effect is the emotional addiction I think. My mom's uncle used to have about 6 gutkas per day. He finally decided to quit when he started having open sores in his mouth. It was hard for him to stop but he was very determined. He chewed gum or ate a hard candy every time he craved tobacco. He was able to stop before it's too late but many people cannot. I'm lucky that my immediate family does not use any tobacco and has taught me a lot about its dangers from an early age. I never had any interest in trying it. It's best to never get started.

By serenesurface — On Mar 08, 2011

I just came back from Delhi, India several weeks ago. I was also there in December when the government passed a law banning gutka in plastic packets. They did this so that manufacturers would have to use more costly packaging and increase the cost of gutka, hoping that people would be less inclined to use it. I think that gutka and paan are terrible habits. I watched many male students at the university rush over to the gutka stalls in the streets during breaks. They chew too much of it and also throw the packaging in the streets. It's not a pretty sight.

I don't think the ban was a good idea. The government's intention was good but it's such a roundabout way of decreasing gutka use. The ban basically made no difference for several weeks. Sellers kept selling the plastic packaged ones. The policemen started taking charge to get sellers to stop selling it. I don't think that was too successful either. Plus, the increase in price is not going to prevent addicts from using gutka.

There are strong lobbies against gutka in India. But clearly it's not enough. Maybe they should ban use of gutka and paan in stores, offices and buildings like they have banned cigarettes in the public in many US states and some in Europe. But considering the number of people who chew gutka and the lack of organization among law enforcement, I'm not sure how far that would go either. I just hope something serious can be done about it soon. I think that India is such a promising country and I feel bad for the young generation. They are going to face some serious health issues when they are older if they continue with the gutka habit.

By anon40998 — On Aug 12, 2009

thanks for the info.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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