This is What You Should Know About Bidi Cigarettes

Bidi Cigarettes. Image Courtesy of National Cancer Institute

A Reader asks:

What are bidi cigarettes, and are they a safe smoking alternative to traditional manufactured cigarettes with tobacco?

Bidis (pronounced bee-dees) are small hand-rolled cigarettes made of tobacco and wrapped in tendu or temburni leaf (plants that are native to Asia -- Diospyros melanxylon). They are manufactured in India and other southeast Asian countries and exported to more than 100 countries.

Typically tied on one or both ends with bits of colorful string, bidis are produced in a variety of flavors that would appeal to kids, including chocolate, mango, vanilla, lemon-lime, mint, pineapple and cherry.

Cigarettes with Training Wheels

Referred to as cigarettes with training wheels by health authorities, the overall appearance and taste of this product are especially appealing to young people.

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 they don't have chemicals added concentrations to help with combustion, smokers must draw on a bidi cigarette more often and with more force to keep it from going out. This results in higher levels of toxins breathed in than with traditional cigarettes. Smokers puff on a single bidi cigarette approximately 28 times as opposed to 9 puffs on a regular cigarette.
    • The risk of heart disease and heart attack is three times higher for bidi smokers than nonsmokers.
    • Bidi smoking is associated with emphysema and increases the risk of chronic bronchitis by four times.
    • 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

    Bidi cigarettes are hazardous to human health and should not be thought of as a safe smoking alternative.

    Parents should proactively teach their children early on about the dangers of bidi cigarettes and smoking in general.

    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.

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