Question: Are bidi cigarettes a safe smoking alternative?
What are bidi cigarettes, and are they a safe smoking alternative to traditional manufactured cigarettes with tobacco?
Answer: Bidis (pronounced bee-dees) are small hand-rolled cigarettes manufactured in India and other southeast Asian countries that are exported to more than 100 other countries.
Cigarettes with Training Wheels
Bidi cigarettes consist of tobacco wrapped in tendu or temburni leaf (plants that are native to Asia -- Diospyros melanxylon). Typically tied on one or both ends with string, bidis are produced in a wide variety of flavors, including chocolate, mango, vanilla, lemon-lime, mint, pineapple and cherry.
Referred to as cigarettes with training wheels by health authorities, the overall appearance and taste of this product is especially appealing to young smokers.
Bidi cigarettes gained popularity in the United States in the mid-1990s, and by 1999, there was a call to action against bidis by the State Attorneys General urging Congress and federal officials to stop the import of this toxic product geared specifically toward children.
From Attorney General Tom Miller:
"Bidis are more damaging to health than traditional cigarettes, and they are flavored to make them attractive to children. That's a lethal combination."
Bidi Cigarette Facts
- Bidi cigarettes contain three to five times the amount of nicotine as traditional cigarettes.
- Since bidis don't have chemicals added to help with combustion, smokers must draw on a bidi cigarette more often and with more force in order to keep it from going out. This results in higher concentrations of toxins breathed in than with traditional cigarettes. Smokers puff on a bidi cigarette approximately 28 times as opposed to 9 puffs on a regular cigarette.
- People who smoke bidis increase their risk of oral cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, and esophageal cancer.
- The risk of heart disease and heart attack is three times higher for bidi smokers than nonsmokers.
- Bidi smoking is associated with emphysema and a fourfold increased risk of chronic bronchitis.
- Young smokers are attracted to bidis, because they are easier to obtain than traditional cigarettes, provide a "rush" of nicotine, are small and flavored and look like marijuana joints.
- Bidi packaging often does not contain the health-warning labels that regular cigarettes must carry.
In February of 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered four brands of bidi cigarettes to be removed from the market because the manufacturers were not able (or were unwilling) to provide documentation that proves the products do not raise new or different health concerns for the general public. The brands are:
- Sutra Bidis
- Sutra Bidis Red
- Sutra Bidis Menthol
- Sutra Bidis Red Cone
CDC Factsheet on Bidis and Kreteks. U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services. Accessed March 2014.
FDA issues first orders to stop sale, distribution of tobacco products. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed March 2014.