It was first reported in 2010 that the pillars of Kolkata's landmark Howrah bridge were being used as spittoons by pedestrians who chewed gutkha – a tobacco product popular with millions in India.
Soon the Lions Club of Howrah launched a "Save Howrah Bridge from Spit" campaign urging people not to spit on the bridge.
The campaign spread across the city of Kolkata, where reddish-brown gutkha stains are visible almost everywhere — pavements, streets, office staircases, business houses, and residential complexes. Prominent citizens of Kolkata joined the campaign in an effort to rid the city of the ugly stains.
Gutkha is a commercially produced pre-packaged mixture of crushed betel nut, tobacco, lime, paraffin, and other "secret" ingredients, many of which are carcinogenic and addictive.
Some brands of gutkha also contain lead, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and cadmium, which are as bad as nicotine. To make its shelf life longer, magnesium carbonate – which is used in fire extinguishers and is a known carcinogen – is also added to gutkha.
Activists reported about a year ago that one-third of men and one-fifth of women across India are addicted to chewing tobacco and gutkha was its most popular form.