Chandigarh: The Haryana government has imposed a complete ban on the sale and use of chewing or bubble gum in order to contain the spread of Covid-19, which is known to be transmitted through the droplets released when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
Since chewing and bubble gum are both meant to be spat out and not swallowed, the Haryana authorities want to curtail their consumption as a preventive measure.
The order was issued Wednesday by the state food and drugs administration department under Section 30 of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, which allows the government to impose a ban on any food item that it considers harmful to public health.
Although there is no scientific evidence to back the move, Haryana food and drug commissioner Ashok Meena, who issued the order, told ThePrint that it was a preventive measure meant to ensure chewed gum is not spat on others or on roads, or pasted on surfaces like desks, as they often are.
“The logic of banning chewing gum is the same as that of banning gutka and khaini. Gutka and khaini were already banned for a year in August 2019… While reiterating the enforcement of that ban, we have added chewing gum too,” he added.
Food and drug inspectors across the state have been asked to urgently enforce the order.
Experts from across the state said there was no scientific evidence to prove coronavirus could spread through the remains of chewing or bubble gum, but added that the order constituted a sound precaution because the virus and its spread remains a subject of research.
Senior virologist Dr Shobha Broor, professor emeritus at the Gurugram-based SGT Medical College and Hospital and former head of the AIIMS department of virology, said “depending on the temperature and amount of virus in the saliva, it might stay active for 8-12 hours if stuck to a surface”.
“Latest studies have shown that, apart from the droplets that are pushed into the air through coughing and sneezing, the micro-droplets produced while an infected person is talking can also remain in the air and inhaled,” she added. “That is also the reason why wearing masks has been recommended for everyone. The idea behind banning chewables is mainly to contain the spread of the virus.”
Dr Jagdish Chander, who heads the department of microbiology and is also the principal investigator for Covid-19 at Chandigarh-based PGIMER, said the logic behind the khaini-gutka ban could also be extended to chewing gum.
“The whole idea is to stop the sputum of an infected person from further spreading the virus,” he added.
According to experts, gum might prove a transmission hazard because people often stick it to different surfaces, where someone else may accidentally come in contact with the virus, if any is present.
“Chewing gum is something that is mixed with saliva again and again and remains in the mouth of a person for a long time. It can be a transmitter if an infected person sticks it to surfaces, shelves, under tables etc,” said Dr Jitender Saini, assistant professor in the department of microbiology at Central University of Haryana in Mahendergarh.
“When it is thrown on the road, it can become a source of infection sanitation workers. We do not have much data about how long this virus stays on surfaces, but one study has shown that it can stay on plastic and metal for several days,” he added. “With that kind of transmissibility, all such precautionary steps are in the right direction.”
Dr Ritesh Sharma, a consultant in pulmonary medicine at a private hospital in Sirsa, said it was commendable that the Haryana government was going to “this extent to contain the spread of coronavirus”.
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