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Plastic: Grading and their effect on our health

We probably don’t think before we consume anything out of plastic containers. Next time we purchase or use anything plastic look out for the numbered triangle . The number inside has a significance, which I thought was rather interesting. So read on if you are interested in plastic vis-a-vis your health.

The arrows mean that the plastic is recyclable and the numberprinted inside the arrows is the plastic identification code.

So now, this sign with a 1 inside the triangle would mean that a plastic bottle, most often your cola bottle, that you call PET, is made of PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). This one is in highest demand from manufacturers because it is inexpensive and lightweight. However, most of us (me, definitely included) use these bottles more than once. Please know that these PET bottles are for one-time use only. The one time use clause implies that you use the contents of the bottle, and then recycle it, rather than using the bottle to keep water at home. Reuse releases DEHP – a proven human carcinogen – as well as isphenol-A (BPA), which can cause breast and uterine cancer as well as an increased risk of miscarriage, and decreased testosterone levels – into the contents of the bottle. And, you cannot sue manufacturers for using PET because they intend it for one-time use of the consumer (seen that crush bottle after use sign on the lable?) and therefore “The use by consumers of PET polymer in food packaging, therefore, is demonstrated and considered safe,” says The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). When buying plastic bottles at stores for use as water bottles for children or adults, please ensure that you do not buy PET and make sure you dump the cola bottles into the recycle bin or trashbin after consumption. PET is also most commonly used for water and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; peanut butter containers; salad dressing and vegetable oil containers; oven usable food trays, etc.

Many manufacturers claim PET is 100% safe and reusable, but do understand that this is probably their way of justifying the use ofinexpensive packaging.

This sign with a 2 inside the triangle means that the plastic bottle is made of HDPE (high density polyethylene). It is found most commonly in Milk jugs, juice bottles; bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt tubs; cereal box liners, etc. It is a sturdy and reliable translucent plastic with probably no known leaching characteristic. It is therefore ok to reuse these plastic bottles provided you wash them with warm (not hot !!) soapy water after each use to prevent the growth of bacteria.

This one with a 3 inside the triangle indicates V (Vinyl) or PVC. Used in Window cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, piping, etc, this is not food grade plastic. It is not entirely recyclable and can release a lot of harmful dioxins into the air. PVC contains DEHP, a phthalate that is a suspected carcinogen readily found in numerous PVC products. Do not sniff or eat from PVC because poisonous chemicals
continuously off-gas from this grade of plastic.

The symbol with a 4 inside the triangle implies LDPE (low density polyethylene). It is used in Squeezable bottles; water bottles,bread and frozen food containers, dry cleaning andshopping bags; tote bags; clothing; furniture; carpets, etc. It is completely safe toreuse provided you wash it with soapy water after every use. Leaching risks are low, and therefore this grade of plastic is good forstoring food or for use as water bottles. Reputed brands like Tupperware and Ziploc use this grade of plastic for their products.

The symbol that shows 5 inside the triangle indicates PP (polypropylene) and is used in ome yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine bottles, etc. This is also extremely reusable and safe, and used by Tupperware and Ziploc and as cling sheets. It has a high meting point and therefore makes a good material for containers that must hold hot food. Leaching is minimal and well below safety levels and the plastic can be washed and reused any number of times before final recycling.

The symbol with a 6 is PS (polystyrene) and most often used in disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases, etc. This is difficult to recycle and is definitely not reusable because it leaches isphenol-A (BPA) – a harmful xenoestrogen that interferes with human hormonal messaging – along with other potential toxins intofood and drink. Recycle or trash these plastic items after one use and do not attempt to wash ans reuse these. Also, never ever use this grade of plastic in the microwave. It also contains styrene, has been associated with skin, eye and respiratory irritation, depression, fatigue, compromised kidney function, and central nervous system damage. Takeaway plastic containers fromrestaurants are made of this grade of plastic, so transfer the food into a safer container as soon as possible.

The symbol with a 7 indicates Other implying plastics, including acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, fiberglass, nylon, polycarbonate, and polylactic acid. It is used in used in most plastic baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, “sport” water bottles, metal food can liners, clear plastic “sippy” cups and some clear plastic cutlery.olycarbonate is known to leach bisphenol A or BPA (a chemical that mimics the action of the human hormone estrogen) when heated or when harsh detergents are used (dishwashers with the combination of high heat and detergent could increase leaching). #7 is a catch all category for plastics that don’t fit into the #1-6 categories. Some may be labeled #7 “other” but are not polycarbonate. Do not reuse this plastic at all.

Nicotine Anywhere

Tobacco manufacturer ITC exploits legal loopholes to openly advertise and sell nicotine gums

What’s the worst that could happen to India’s campaign against tobacco? Manufacturers of tobacco products join the campaign, market the idea and make a fortune selling a product which they claim helps addicts quit tobacco.

India’s largest tobacco product manufacturer ITC Limited did exactly that when it launched its nicotine chewing gum, KwikNic, in the last quarter of 2013. Nicotine is the stimulant drug in tobacco that makes it addictive. The tobacco manufacturer exploited the loopholes in the current laws not only to enter the market, but also to advertise it widely on television channels and billboards. The reason: unlike the tobacco industry which is suffering because of government restrictions such as hike in taxes and anti-tobacco advertisements, the market for nicotine gums is growing at an annual rate of 40 per cent.

In 2002, India, which has 270 million tobacco users, legalised chewing gums with two milligrams (mg) of nicotine under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Since then several pharmaceutical companies have launched their products in India, including Nicorette from Johnson & Johnson, Nicotex and Nicogum from Cipla and Tobaquit from Zydus Cadila. ITC claims it has registered KwikNic as a drug, but unlike pharmaceutical companies, it has gone all out and started an aggressive advertising and marketing campaign to sell the product.

The company exploited the fact that the three pieces of legislation that govern sale and distribution of drugs and cosmetics in India—the Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940, the Drug and Cosmetic Rule, 1945, and the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable advertisements) Act, 1955—are silent on whether nicotine-based drugs can be promoted/advertised. As a result, the company has started selling the drug not only at chemist shops, but also at paan shops, grocery stores and shopping websites.

One of the television commercials of KwikNic shows a bridegroom struggling to say qubool hai (I do) because of tobacco in his mouth. Irritated, somebody from the audience screams out the sentence thrice and gets married instead. The bride faints and the product is pushed as an alterative to tobacco.

Experts working against tobacco products say the practice started by ITC to advertise the product and make it easily available at stores will only help non-smokers get addicted to the nicotine gum and later to tobacco products. Sindhu Naik of non-profit Karnataka State Council for Child Welfare (KSCCW) says, “Children can easily get this product which can lead to nicotine addiction. Besides, the chewing gums are flavoured and, unlike tobacco products, do not smell. This makes it difficult for parents to check if their children are using the gum.” KSCCW floated an online petition against the product in mid-January.

Their concerns might not be unfounded. While there is no data available on the impact the ITC campaign has had on youngsters, most paan shop owners Down To Earth spoke to said the demand for the product has gone up since the advertisements started in January. “On an average, I sell 10 KwikNic packets to children every day,” says Shyam Singh, a paan shop owner in South Delhi.

While there are no conclusive studies on the impact of nicotine gums, doctors warn that prolonged use of the product can increase blood pressure, hair loss and tooth decay. It can also lead to sleeping disorders.

In the right direction

Acting on a KSCCW complaint over the sale of KwikNic at grocery stores and paan shops, Karnataka joint food safety commissioner Jayakumar says he has asked ITC to withdraw products from the market. “If they do not follow the instruction, we will conduct raids and seize the products from the market. Both advertising in popular media and selling nicotine gums at grocery shops are illegal,” he says.

The Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory body, also has registered a case against ITC because advertising nicotine products is against ASCI guidelines. “A complaint was lodged against the advertisement. A decision has been taken. Now the company will be asked if it wants to challenge the decision. The whole process takes two months,” says an ASCI official.

An ITC spokesperson told says their operations are legal and they got the manufacturing licence from the joint commissioner of Food and Drug Administration, Nagpur. The tobacco company has also managed to get clearances to manufacture the nicotine gum at the Nagpur plant of confectionery giant Candico. The candy manufacturer’s website reads: “With over 2 billion confectionery products sold every year, Candico has been making millions of children smile.”

Maharashtra Drug and Food Commissioner Mahesh Zagade says there is nothing illegal about the licence. “Government of India has registered nicotine gum as a drug and it is the duty of the state to give licences, if someone applies for it,” he says. When asked if it was legal to sell drugs at paan and grocery shops, he said he was not aware that such sale was happening and that “action will be taken against them”.

Drug officials at the Centre, however, are not sure about the validity of the product. L Swasthicharan, chief medical officer with the Directorate General of Health Services, says he wrote a letter to the Drug Controller General of India on December 6 last year seeking clarification on the validity of the product and its advertisement. “I have asked whether it is registered as food item or as a drug. If it is a drug, can a tobacco company produce nicotine replacement therapy drug? Whether it would be sold as an over the counter drug or a prescribed drug? Can it be sold at shops? Is its advertisement legal?” says Swasthicharan. “A response is awaited.”

G N Singh, the Drug Controller General of India, says advertisement of nicotine-based products in the market is prohibited. He maintains he is not aware that ITC is running an advertisement campaign for KwikNic.

Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director of non-profit Voluntary Health Association of India, says KwikNic advertisement by ITC is a clear violation of Section 5 of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, which bans the advertisement of tobacco products, including surrogate advertisement, except at shops that sell tobacco products. Mukhopadhyay points out that the advertisement features ITC logo, which is illegal because it amounts to surrogate advertising as ITC is primarily a tobacco manufacturer.

The company has refuted the claim. “KwikNic advertisements are not advertisements for any brand of cigarettes. These advertisements do not show or make any reference to cigarettes or cigarette brands. Please also note that advertisement of nicotine gums is not prohibited by law,” ITC spokesperson said.

Article contributed by-

Binoy Mathew

Media Officer, Tobacco Control
Voluntary Health Association of India
B – 40 Qutab Institutional Area
New Delhi – 110016
Ph: 011- 47004300
Mob: + 91 – 9911366272
Email: binoymathew84@gmail.com