The locals chew the mixture of the palm tree nut with mustard and lime powder and spit the substance to the ground. The habit produces stimulation similar to the mild rush from cigarettes, the Telegraph reports.
Authorities have tried to limit the habit to no avail with an official government sanction.
“Now what is life compared to chewing betel nut and spitting betel nut How will we contain the disease?” John Pundari, the minister for environment and conservation in Papua New Guinea, said, according to the Telegraph. “Everywhere around the country, we’ve got to legislate and force that legislation, ban betel nut chewing.”
One of the problems with getting a ban passed is that betel nuts are extremely popular and act as a contributor to the local economy. Thousands of residents make a living from growing the crops and supplying the nuts on the streets of the country’s largest towns.
Powes Parkop, the governor of Port Moresby, the nation’s capital, unsuccessfully pushed for the ban for years.
“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,” Parkop said, according to ABC Radio. “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.”