The Risks of Smoking Bidi Cigarettes

Bidi cigarettes

National Cancer Institute

As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

Bidis (pronounced bee-dees and also known as beedis) are small hand-rolled cigarettes made of tobacco and wrapped in tendu or temburni leaf (Diospyros melanoxylon, a plant native to Asia). Bidis are manufactured in India and other southeast Asian countries and exported around the world.

In India, bidi cigarettes are cheaper and more heavily consumed than traditional commercial cigarettes. It is a common misconception that because the cigarettes are less expensive, they are also less harmful. That is a dangerous misconception.

Cigarettes With Training Wheels

Bidis are referred to as "cigarettes with training wheels" by health authorities. Like clove cigarettes, the overall appearance and taste of this product is especially appealing to young people. They are typically tied on one or both ends with bits of colorful string and produced in a variety of flavors that appeal to kids, including chocolate, mango, vanilla, lemon-lime, mint, pineapple, and cherry.

Bidi cigarettes gained popularity in the United States in the mid-1990s. Young American smokers were attracted to bidis because they were easier to obtain than traditional cigarettes, provided a rush of nicotine, were small and flavored, and looked like marijuana joints.

By 1999, there was a call to action against bidis by state attorneys general. These officials urged Congress and federal authorities to stop the import of this toxic product geared toward children. 

"Bidis are more damaging to health than traditional cigarettes, and they are flavored to make them attractive to children. That's a lethal combination."
–Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

Bidi consumption significantly declined in February of 2014 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered four brands of bidi cigarettes removed from the market: Sutra Bidis, Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, and Sutra Bidis Red Cone. The manufacturer was unable (or unwilling) to provide documentation that proved the products do not raise new or different health concerns for the general public. 

This was the first tobacco ban put in place as a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that gives the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products was in the United States. Bidis can still be purchased online, but have lost popularity in the United States since the ban.

The Health Risks of Bidi Smoking

In some respects, bidis are actually more harmful than regular commercial cigarettes produced in the U.S.

  • Bidi cigarettes contain three to five times more nicotine than traditional cigarettes.
  • Bidi cigarettes contain more tar and carbon monoxide than regular cigarettes.
  • Bidi smokers breathe in higher levels of toxins, because bidis don't have chemicals added to help with combustion. Smokers must draw on a bidi cigarette more often and with more force to keep it from going out.

A regular cigarette takes the average smoker about 9 puffs to finish. With bidi cigarettes, smokers puff approximately 28 times.

People who smoke bidis have an increased 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 also associated with emphysema and increases the risk of chronic bronchitis.

Bidi cigarettes are hazardous to human health and should not be considered a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. Parents should proactively teach their children early on about the dangers of bidi cigarettes and smoking in general.

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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act - an overview. Updated June 3, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bidis and kreteks. Reviewed January 17, 2018.