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Sunday, April 14, 2024

London Councillors urge government action as Paan chewing sparks hygiene and health concerns

‘It’s Disgusting’ - Calls for chewing tobacco to be banned as North London neighbourhood covered in blood-red spit

A North London councillor has called on the government to ban the use of a chewing tobacco popular amongst the South East Asian community because of the ‘nasty mess’ it’s leaving on the streets. After chewing, ‘Paan’ is spat out and has left buildings, roads, and flower beds covered in a blood-red saliva mix.

Paan is made up of a mixture of ingredients including betel nut and leaf, herbs, and tobacco which, when chewed together, gives the user a stimulant or narcotic effect. Paan chewing is rife in parts of Brent, particularly around Wembley where you can barely walk ten metres without seeing signs of its usage.

Heading out of Alperton Station and along the Ealing Road towards Wembley Central, it’s impossible not to notice the red tinge of post-masticated tobacco splattered across the landscape. From bus shelters, to telephone boxes, and even up the walls of the local mosque, once you notice it, it’s everywhere you look.

Rakesh, A resident of Wembley. Image: Grant Williams

Wembley resident Rakesh, 55, called the paan spitting ‘disgusting’ and says the damage it’s causing is having a huge impact on the local community and the environment. Rakesh told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “It’s disgusting. Inside our houses do we do the same thing? No. So, in the public area we are supposed to not be doing it at all.”

He added: “The council is […] trying to clean up the streets, it’s looking disgusting. I apologise to [the] people who are eating the paan in the community here, or in the whole of London, I please apologise for whatever I said but that’s the truth. We must civilise our generation.”

Chewing tobacco can be very harmful to the user’s health, with research showing that it raises the risk of mouth cancer and oesophageal cancer, according to the NHS. Studies have also shown that, due to it being carcinogenic, betel itself can raise the risk of cancer even without tobacco.

Bhavesh, A resident of Webley, who takes Paan. Image: Grant Williams

Bhavesh, 39, has been using paan every day for the past 30 years; by mid afternoon he had chewed eight times already. Bhavesh told the LDRS that doing so makes him feel calm. “it’s just so the mind is free,” he added.

Speaking about the state of the area due to paan spitting, Bhavesh said: “I spit it in the bin. […] When I am using the paan at home I’m using [a] water [bottle] (to spit in to) and then after, closing [the lid].” He called the state of the area from those users spitting in the streets ‘not good’.

Labour-run Brent Council has campaigned in the past to stop paan spitting and has put up signs and posters to discourage users. However, the local councillor for Alperton, the Liberal Democrats’ Anton Georgiou, has called for more to be done around education and enforcement in order to break the cycle.

 

Cllr Anton Georgiou. Image: Brent Council

Cllr Georgiou told the LDRS: “There isn’t a road [or] wall that doesn’t have stains on it as a consequence of paan. It’s very unsightly, it’s unhygienic and we feel that more needs to be done to combat the issue locally.”

He added: “The council have attempted, over many years, to address the problem but we feel more needs to be done. There needs to be greater enforcement and I am also keen to see that we do a lot of education around the health implications of paan.

“I think there needs to be a public health approach here because the consequences of spitting and using paan are huge for users. More widely than that, it’s having a really big impact on the state of our area, on the way our area looks.”

Cllr Georgiou’s Liberal Democrat colleague, Cllr Paul Lorber, represents nearby Sudbury ward and called the growing problem there ‘appalling’. He wants the crackdown on Paan to go further and has submitted a petition to the government calling for an outright ban on health and environmental grounds.

Cllr Paul Lorber stands beside a wall defaced with Paan. Image: Grant Williams

Cllr Lorber told the LDRS: “It’s the last resort unfortunately. All sorts of attempts have been made to persuade people to behave responsibly; that hasn’t worked. This is the only alternative, unfortunately. It’s causing a lot of mess, people spitting it all over the place, it’s leaving nasty marks everywhere. People are fed up with it.”

He added: “It’s just a nasty, nasty habit that is causing problems in our areas. It’s costing money to clear up, I’d rather that money be spent on slightly more beneficial things than having to clear up a mess that shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

Brent Council has supported campaigns to encourage businesses to clamp down on spitting by making sure customers wait to get home before they start chewing and to report those who break the law by spitting in the street. It also organises ‘days of action’ throughout the year with enforcement officers, who will issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) if someone is seen spitting, as well as carrying out intensive street cleaning. Other tactics the council uses to discourage paan spitting include through social media messaging, working with local schools to raise awareness, and knocking on doors to speak to people in the area.

Lead Member for Environment, Cllr Krupa Sheth. Image: Brent Council

Lead Member for Environment, Cllr Krupa Sheth, said: “Not only is paan spitting a stain on our community, but it also comes with serious health implications. On a number of occasions, we have caught offenders in the act, however, it is difficult to catch everyone. We believe that prevention is better than cure.”

She added: “Stop Smoking Services help tackle the root cause of the problem, and we have also installed posters and painted stencils in hotspot areas to raise awareness of the issue. However, we also strongly believe that communities can help educate people who spit and encourage them to change their behaviour.”

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