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Burma’s Deputy Health Minister Dr Win Myint has said that the chewing of betel nut is unsanitary, and its use risks tarnishing the image of both its consumers and Burma as a whole.
The minister made the comments while addressing the parliament’s upper house session on Wednesday, in response to a question from MP Phone Myat Aung about a planned health awareness project at betel nut shops in Burma. Win Myint said that the country is currently the top betel nut chewer among Southeast Asian countries, and the rate of oral cancer and other betel nut related diseases is steadily increasing.
He added that the Ministry of Health is currently carrying out awareness campaigns across Burma to educate the public about the negative effects of betel nut chewing.
The betel (Piper betle) is the leaf of a vine belonging to the Piperaceae family, which includes pepper and kava. It is valued both as a mild stimulant and for its medicinal properties. In many countries, including India, Burma and Vietnam, it is usually chewed with areca nut (thus the term “betel nut”) and tobacco in a heavily carcinogenic combination.
Chewing betel nut is now dying out in a modernising world, but it was traditionally widely consumed throughout South and Southeast Asia by all social groups, and considered an essential part of daily life.