What is Gutka? 15 Facts You Need to Know

What is Gutka


Gutka is a chewable mix of tobacco and other ingredients enjoyed in India and beyond. It’s got this interesting blend of flavors that can be pretty tempting. But here’s the thing – as tasty as it might seem, it is a health hazard. If that has raised your curiosity, here’s what gutka is and 15 facts you need to know. You may reconsider your decision to chew it. 

1. What is Gutka?

Like Khaini and Jarda, Gutka is smokeless tobacco. No one knows when and how, but it originated from the Indian subcontinent and continues to be a staple here. It is quite the blend, carrying tobacco, crushed areca nut (betel nut), spices, and more. You chew gutka, placing it between the gum and cheek for a flavorful kick. Some call it betel quid with tobacco. Regardless of what you call it, it’s best to steer clear or be exposed to serious conditions.    

2. Difference between Gutka & Pan Masala:

While pan masala and gutka are used interchangeably, they are two different things. The prime difference is tobacco – gutka has it, while pan masala does not. They share common ingredients like areca nut, slaked lime, and flavorings. But toss in some tobacco, and you get gutka. Thanks to tobacco, gutka is harsher in taste, costlier, and far more addictive and risky than pan masala. That said, pan masala isn’t risk-free either. Read More… 

3. Gutka is Insanely Popular:

In India, about 21.4% of adults use smokeless tobacco, which is twice the number of smokers at 10.7%. Guess what? In 2012, around 65 million Indians used gutka, with numbers skyrocketing since then. The pan masala and gutka market is also on a tear. In 2021, it earned INR 406,153 crore. By 2030, it’s expected to soar to INR 608,801 crore, growing at a rate of 4.6% annually from 2022. However, its popularity isn’t restricted to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka alone but also to Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, New Guinea, the United Kingdom, parts of Africa, Australia, and North America. It’s virtually everywhere.

4. Different People, Different Reasons:

Gutka means different things to different people. Some use it to enhance their mood or feel relaxed while some use to it stay focused. Some even use it to suppress hunger and lose those extra kilos. Indoor smoking bans are also pushing people to this smokeless killer. Plus, it’s cheap, and easier to hide and use – a big motivation for youngsters. 

5. The Misconception of Safety:

More folks are turning to gutka and pan masala these days, thinking it’s safer. Since gutka is chewed not smoked, some believe it doesn’t harm the lungs as smoking does. Plus, because you can use it indoors without causing a fuss, folks might assume it’s less risky. Cultural norms and the fact that many people use gutka without any immediate health issues also play into this perception. Trust an ex-user on it, they all end up regretting their decision. 

6. For Some, It’s a Nonsmoking Aid:

People often resort to gutka to quit smoking. Embracing a tobacco product to quit another tobacco product is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Remember, tobacco in any form is highly addictive and may cause cancer. Guess what? Chewing 3 grams of gutka for 30 minutes is like smoking four regular-sized cigarettes.

7. Gateway to Oral Submucous Fibrosis:

Gutka is a pandora’s box, linked to immediate and long-term health risks. Take, for example, oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF). Nicotine from tobacco triggers the fibrotic changes in your mouth’s lining. Plus, regular exposure to spicy foods, alcohol, and certain chemicals adds fuel to the fire. OSMF is like your mouth gets wrapped in tight bands of fibrous tissue, making it feel stiff and hard to open. In some cases, sufferers can barely open their mouths wide enough to sip through a straw. Worst still, it’s incurable. Patients deal with burning sensations and ulcers, making eating and drinking a challenge. This can lead to malnutrition and weight loss, along with some serious anxiety about cancer.

8. Gutka is a Proven Cancer-Causer:

Tobacco comes loaded with over 7,000 chemicals with carcinogens like nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. They temper with your DNA and trigger cancerous cell growth. Then there’s the areca nut, armed with alkaloids that speed up cell multiplication and weaken your mouth’s defenses against toxins. While tobacco and areca nut create toxicity in your mouth, the slaked lime opens the door wider for damage. 

Even the flavors in gutka can be sneaky, with additives hiding carcinogens. All that chewing? It’s like a recipe for chronic inflammation, making your tissues prime targets for cancer. And let’s not forget the reactive oxygen species that love to damage your cells’ DNA and membranes. With gutka hanging out in your mouth, it’s like giving cancer a VIP pass. Combine all these factors, and you’ve got a perfect storm brewing for oral cancer.

9. Gutka Can Cause Sleep Disorder:

Research links gutka with sleep disorders. It’s loaded with nicotine, a stimulant drug that keeps you wide awake. So, when you chew any tobacco mixture, your sleep gets all messed up, with tossing and turning all night long. But that’s not all. Gutka also wrecks your oral health, leading to oral pain. That can make it even harder to catch a fulfilling sleep.

10. It can Mess Up Your Love Life:

Something that tobacco brands will conceal, chewing tobacco has enough nicotine to cause erectile dysfunction (ED), and, worst still, impotence. Nicotine squeezes blood vessels only to restrict the blood flow down there. The male organ, thus, finds it hard to achieve and maintain an erection. How does nicotine achieve this? Well, it lowers the Nitric Oxide Levels in the body. Nitric Oxide is a chemical that widens the blood vessels, helping smooth blood flow. 

A Scandinavian study suggests that chewing tobacco can cut down blood vessel dilation by a whopping 53%. A 2020 study also links chewing tobacco to delayed orgasm and even anorgasmia, where you can’t reach climax. Tobacco also hits female users hard, reducing their estrogen levels and killing their libido. The impact is subject to the amount of chewing tobacco you consume. Simply put, the more nicotine you intake, the more severe the impact.

11. Exposes You to Diabetes & Hypertension:

Nicotine’s ability to choke blood vessels not only causes impotency but also hypertension. It’s like putting your cardiovascular system into overdrive, which isn’t great news for your heart. Chronic gutka use has been known to bring along a host of other issues like headaches, nosebleeds, blurry vision, and feeling dizzy. Plus, chewing tobacco can also pave the way for diabetes. People dealing with high blood pressure are likely to develop insulin resistance. To top it off, diabetes can damage blood vessels, which in turn can worsen the blood pressure situation. It’s like a vicious cycle.

12. It Can Make You Ill, Immediately:

Besides those deadly long-term conditions, chewing tobacco can cause immediate illness, especially to those trying it for the first time. You might start feeling queasy and end up throwing up, and your body temperature might shoot up. It can make your heart pound faster, your blood pressure to go haywire, and cause stomach cramps, chest pain, and a burning sensation in the mouth. The price is too much for a first-time user even in the short-term. 

13. Available in Low Tobacco Options:

Looking for a gutka fix without the full tobacco punch? Brands like Dilruba Low Tobacco Gutka and Maruti Low Tobacco Gutka promise to dial down the risk with 25-50% less tobacco. How do they do it? By bulking up with more fillers while delivering that familiar kick from tobacco and areca nut. But don’t be fooled by their claims of safety. They are equally dangerous with potential carcinogens and genotoxins like tobacco and areca nuts. 

14. Gutka Banned in Several States: 

The state governments are waking up to the menace of chewing tobacco, hence the bans and heavy taxation. In 2012, Maharashtra became the first state to impose a complete ban on gutka manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. Later in 2013, Gujrat, Kerala, Bihar, MP, Delhi, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, and other states followed suit. States like Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh also have partial restrictions on gutka. Despite the ban, it is available in the grey market.

State  Ban Year State  Ban Year
Maharashtra 2012 Gujarat 2012
Kerala 2013 Bihar 2013
Madhya Pradesh 2013 Delhi  2013
Tamil Nadu 2013 Andhra Pradesh 2013
Mizoram 2013 West Bengal  2013
Rajasthan 2014 Karnataka 2016

15. Brands Resort to Surrogate Advertising:

Gutka brands have learned the art of circumventing the ban on tobacco and cigarette advertising in India. They resort to surrogate advertising, an indirect promotion tactic. Brands are playing dress-up, packaging their products to look like harmless pan masala. It’s like putting a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A study by the Salaam Bombay Foundation found that 84% of adults and 82% of kids associated the products with gutka, not pan masala as advertised. Read More…


Gutka is a popular blend of tobacco and herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, and whatnot. From freshening up breath and achieving focus to masking cigarette and alcohol odors and managing weight, people find excuses to indulge in this exotic blend of flavors. However, the indulgence comes at a price, health. Mind you, it is a tobacco product that can cause sleep disorders, oral submucous fibrosis, heart conditions, tooth and gum decay, nausea, and even cancer. 

It is easier said than done, but you have to steer clear. It all starts with the realization that your health is paramount. Seek professional help, if needed. But don’t give up on your aspirations for a tobacco-free life.   

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  • What does gutka do to your body?

Gutka is a health risk, exposing you to nicotine addiction and various health issues, including oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF) and cancers of the lip, mouth, tongue, throat, and esophagus.

  • What is gutka made of?

Gutka usually packs areca nuts, tobacco, lime, spices, and catechu. Sold in affordable tins or pouches, it often masquerades as pan masala.

  • What is gutka called in English?

Gutka is an umbrella term used to describe a blend of tobacco, areca nuts, slaked lime, and flavorings. While the name remains the same in English, some may refer to it as betel quid with tobacco.

  • Is gutka illegal in India?

In some states, yes. However, it is still readily available India-wide in the grey market even to minors.

  • Which gutka is good for health?

None. All variants come with carcinogens and genotoxins like tobacco and areca nuts. Even the flavorings are potentially dangerous.

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Feature Image Courtesy: 8photo on Freepik