Anti-tobacco activists have warned about the harmful effects of chewing areca nut (
supari
in Hindi), citing a study carried out in Taiwan that links the habit to mental illnesses like anxiety disorders and depression.

The activists have also criticised celebrities for promoting paan masala. “It is a shame how highly influential celebrities like Ajay Devgn continue to promote the sale of these products, such as paan masala, through surrogate advertising. It is very important for the general population to understand the ill effects [of these products] and ignore the influence [of] such individuals,” a press statement issued by the activists said.

A study published in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology journal has stated that there are “mechanistic effects of areca nut chewing on common mental disorders” which “may interact with pre-existing biophysiological abnormalities”. The study was carried out in habitual areca nut users in Taiwan and published in April.

According to head and neck surgeon Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi from Tata Memorial Hospital, alkaloids present in the areca nut are shown to impact neuro-transmitters in the brain, which in turn leads to these mental disorders along with other biophysical effects such as increased heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Synergistic effects of smoking and alcohol consumption on mental disorders have been observed among psychiatric patients who simultaneously consumed tobacco and alcohol; it is thus crucial to examine the role of areca nut in causing adverse mental outcomes among general population,” said Dr. Chaturvedi, who is also the secretary of Action Council Against Tobacco India.

Dr. P.C. Gupta, director of Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, said areca nut consumption has been culturally embedded as a very common custom in Asian countries.

“While men have frequently consumed areca nut for refreshment, alertness and stamina, women mainly seem to consume it for cultural reasons,” he said.

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