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 (plants that are native to Asia—Diospyros melanoxylon). They are manufactured in India and other southeast Asian countries and exported to more than 100 countries.

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

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

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.

Bidi cigarettes gained popularity in the United States in the mid-1990s. By 1999, there was a call to action against bidis by the State Attorneys General. They urged Congress and federal officials to stop the import of this toxic product geared toward children. 

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

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.

Bidi consumption significantly declined in February of 2014 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered four brands of bidi cigarettes to be removed from the market. The bidis 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. 

Brands Removed From The Market

  • Sutra Bidis
  • Sutra Bidis Red
  • Sutra Bidis Menthol
  • Sutra Bidis Red Cone

This bidi ban 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.

Are Bidi Cigarettes More or Less Harmful Than Regular Cigarettes?

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

Since they 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. This results in higher levels of toxins breathed in than with traditional cigarettes.

On regular cigarettes, the average smoker takes 9 puffs. On bidi cigarettes, smokers puff approximately 28 times.

The Health Risks of Bidi Smoking

  • 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 increases the risk of chronic bronchitis.

Bidi cigarettes are hazardous to human health and should not a safe smoking alternative. Parents of kids in countries where bidi smoking is still prevalent should proactively teach their children early on about the dangers of bidi cigarettes and smoking in general.

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  • FDA Issues First Orders to Stop the Sale, Distribution of Tobacco Products. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. February 21, 2014.