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Betel nut ban: fear that buai is spreading tuberculosis

JONATHAN PEARLMAN | The Telegraph (London)

Fire starters at the 50th Goroka Show (Torsten Blackwood)THE POPULAR HABIT of chewing betel nut could banned from the streets of Papua New Guinea amid concerns spitting it out is spreading tuberculosis.

The habit, which is virtually a national pastime, involves chewing the small palm tree nut, which is mixed with lime powder and mustard, before spitting out red-tinged spittle to the floor.

The mixture produces a mild stimulant likened to the rush from cigarettes – and the streets of the capital, Port Moresby, are littered with the red spills.

However, the country's newly-elected government wants to ban the practice after health experts warned the spittle is unhygienic and has led to rising rates of airborne diseases.

"It's got to be banned," said John Pundari, the minister for environment and conservation.

"Now what is life compared to chewing betel nut and spitting betel nut How will we contain the disease? Everywhere around the country, we've got to legislate and force that legislation, ban betel nut chewing."

Authorities in Papua New Guinea have long sought to limit the consumption of betel nuts but have batted against both its popularity and its contribution to the local economy.

Thousands of Papua New Guineans make a living from growing the crops and supplying it on the streets of the capital and larger towns.

The governor of Port Moresby, Powes Parkop, has been pushing for the ban for years and believes the betel nut habit is both unhygienic and unsafe.

"If we start taking some of these measures, getting our people to practice good habits chewing habits whatever, practice preventive health care, maybe they don't need to go to the hospital, they don't need to see a doctor," he told ABC Radio.

"TB is making a comeback in our city, cancer is making a comeback in our city and most of them is airborne disease, passed through chewing of betel nut and spitting out here and there."


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