A lab test reveals that lead, cadmium and chromium are present in all local brands of catechu and chewing tobacco at a range between 0.2 mg to 11.2 mg per kg
It is bad news for those across the country who are fond of adding tobacco products while consuming betel leaves.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority has found dangerous levels of harmful heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium in betel leaf supplements, including catechu, chewing tobacco and snuff.
These heavy metals could cause life-threatening diseases like cancer and liver damage, warned the food safety regulatory agency at a press briefing in its office in Dhaka on Thursday.
Dr Shakhawat Hossain Sayantha, who works on tobacco related diseases at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said the presence of lead, chromium and cadmium in smokeless tobacco is very dangerous.
"Smokeless tobacco is responsible for different kinds of cancer, especially oral cancer. But when mixed with these metals, it could affect the kidney and liver as well. It could even affect pregnant mothers who may end up delivering disabled babies," he said.
He also said that contaminated catechu, chewing tobacco and snuff are responsible for the increasing number of cancer patients in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority found heavy metals in tobacco products after doing a lab test at the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.
Syeda Sarwar Jahan, the chairman of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, said they collected and tested samples of all sorts of locally produced catechu, chewing tobacco and snuff from the open market, and found that they all contained alarming levels of these toxic substances.
The lab test revealed that lead, cadmium and chromium are present in all local brands of catechu and chewing tobacco at a range between 0.2 mg to 11.2 mg per kg.
The most popular brand, Hakimpuri Zarda, contains 0.26 mg/kg lead, 0.95 mg/kg cadmium and 1.65 mg/kg chromium, while all other local brands, including Shahjadi Zarda, Bou Shahjadi Zarda, Mokimpuri Zarda, Dhaka Zarda, Raton Zarda and Zafrani Zarda, have yielded a similar result.
However, the authority has not yet tested any foreign brands available in the market.
In each kg of white Balk Khoyer (Catechu), the test found 11.12 mg lead, 0.10 mg cadmium and 6.62 mg chromium.
Another popular brand Shahjada Gul (chewing tobacco) contains 0.66 mg lead, 1.73 mg cadmium and 5.23 mg Chromium per kg, said the food safety authority.
Professor Dr Md Abdul Alim, a member of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, said, "There is no set parameter on how much of this metal is consumable, but these supplements are not supposed to have any metal."
Meanwhile, the food safety authority has decided to issue a notice to the producers of these products.
"First we will issue a notice to the producers. If they do not correct themselves, we will go for regulatory action," said Chairman Syeda Sarwar.
"We want to eliminate it at source, which is why we will sit with the National Board of Revenue to identify who are supplying these metals," she added.