Bidi Cigarette Risks

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 these cigarettes are less expensive, they are also less harmful. That is untrue. Bidis are as harmful as other cigarettes and cause death from lung and heart disease.

This article discusses what bidis are, how they are made, and their potential health risks. 

What Are Bidi Cigarettes?

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 should be distinguished from the Bidi brand of disposable vape products.

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.

Regulation

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. 

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.

Health Risks of Bidis

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, which means that there is an increased risk of nicotine addiction.
  • 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.

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.

A Word From Verywell

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much nicotine does a bidi contain?

    Research has found that bidi cigarettes contain approximately 21.2 mg/g of nicotine, which is significantly more than the 16.3 mg/g of nicotine found in a regular filtered cigarette. Because of this increased amount of nicotine, it is also believed that bidi smokers are at a higher risk of becoming nicotine dependent.

  • How are bidis made?

    Bidis are made in India and other countries in Southeast Asia. They are made by hand-rolling unprocessed tobacco in tendu or temburni leaves. They are then often tied using colorful strings.

  • Are bidis illegal in the US?

    You can still buy bidis online, but they have decreased in popularity since the FDA banned the sale or import of four bidi tobacco products. As of December 20, 2019, you must be 21 years old to purchase any tobacco products in the United States.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bidis and kreteks. Reviewed January 17, 2018.

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  7. Malson JL, Sims K, Murty R, Pickworth WB. Comparison of the nicotine content of tobacco used in bidis and conventional cigarettesTob Control. 2001;10(2):181-183. doi:10.1136/tc.10.2.181

  8. American Cancer Society. Is any type of tobacco product safe? Updated November 12, 2020. 

  9. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Selling tobacco products in retail stores. Updated April 29, 2021.