Workers in Qionghai, South China's Hainan Province, pick and choose betel nuts. Photo: IC

A notification, published by the Hunan Betel Food Industry Association, urged betel nuts companies in the province to stop advertising on all media platforms before March 15 amid concerns over oral cancer risks caused by long-term chewing of the food.

Yang Xun, president of the Hunan Betel Food Industry Association, said the notification is aimed at regulating the development of the industry and making enterprises engage in self-discipline, The Beijing News reported on Saturday.

The notification came after the National Health Commission of China released a plan (2019-25) to increase Chinese people's oral health in February. The plan pointed out that chewing betel nuts leads to oral diseases and needs to be stopped.

The betel nut was named a Group 1A carcinogen in 2004 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and in 2017 by the China Food and Drug Administration. 

But many locals do not believe stopping advertising would lower betel nuts consumption. "I spend 20 yuan ($3) on betel nuts every day and have been chewing for 20 years," a Hunan resident told the

"Chewing betel nuts is common among Hunan residents, just like smoking," a woman who lives in Hunan, told the Global Times on Sunday. "We were punished in high school by being ordered to pick up dregs of betel nuts. We were allowed to return to the classroom after collecting a full bag."

Sharing betel nuts with others is similar to offering cigarettes in Hunan, a kind of social interaction, Changsha Evening News reported.

Lawyers questioned the legality of the notification. "The association has no right to interfere and force companies not to advertise as long as they do not violate the Advertising Law of China. The notification infringes on the companies' rights," Zhang Xinnian, a Beijing-based lawyer, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Lü Xiaoquan, another lawyer based in Beijing, said that the association should collect companies' opinions and report to the related authorities first.

Hunan is a major consumer of betel nuts in China. There are 4,058 enterprises manufacturing, processing and selling betel nut products in the province, according to The Beijing News report.

Betel nuts are very popular in Asia, with India reportedly contributing the world's highest consumption and production of the food. 

India also has one of the highest incidence of oral cancer patients in the world, to which betel nuts contribute with its carcinogenic nature, according to the US National Institute of Health.

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