Betel Nut Sales to Be Curbed

By The Irrawaddy 27 May 2016

RANGOON — Just under two months since the National League for Democracy (NLD) came into power, the government is taking bold aim at one of Burma’s most iconic habits: chewing betel nut. The Union Government Office announced Friday that there would be a ban on selling betel nut in or near hospitals, schools and government offices.

No details were provided on how far from the buildings the ban would be in effect, nor how it would be enforced.

“Many people across the country chew betel nut, which is one of Burma’s customs. This harms the appearance of government offices, schools, hospitals and towns, and also causes mouth, throat and tongue cancers,” the government statement said.

“We have therefore sought recommendations about how to reduce and get rid of betel chewing as well as providing alternative livelihoods for betel nut sellers.”

The government plans to educate the public on the health dangers of betel nut through TV, newspaper and online campaigns, and will take action against sellers in the proscribed areas. They will also put up educational posters at hospitals, clinics, schools and health bureaus across the country.

A habit for many Burmese men and also women to a lesser extent, betel nut is chewed for its nicotine-like stimulant properties. Its detractors, in addition to citing the negative health effects, point to the characteristic—and, they argue, unsightly—rust-red stains that result from spitting out juice secreted by the nut. The habit’s enduring popularity is manifest in the many red-splotched sidewalks, stairwells and buses in Rangoon and other towns across the country.