Bidi (also spelled as beedi) is a deadly poor man’s thin Indian cigarette packed with high amount of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. It is very popular is south Asian countries, especially in India and is exported to more than 100 countries. If you are a smoker then I wanted to pinpoint the Indian styled cigarette that you might wish to try when you are in India (at your own risk of course). But a word of warning! Research has shown that a regular size bidi contains 5 times more tar than a regular cigarette and also thrice the amount of nicotine and carbon monoxide. Apart from these they have additional harmful chemicals like phenol, benzopyrenes, hydrogen cyanide, and ammonia.
Often bidis are manufactured by tying unrefined tobacco flakes in a Tendu Patta (leaf of Indian Ebony plant) and rarely by Bidi leaf tree (Bauhinia Racemosa). Bidis accounts for nearly 48% of the tobacco consumed in India. They allow the consumer to ingest a lot of particulate matter as they do not have any filters on them. They are unhealthy, addictive and are known to be the cause of oral, esophagus and lung cancers among many users, in addition to increasing risk of cardiovascular diseases and lung diseases. Unlike the cigars or cigarettes, bidis do not remain lit for a long time. Like any type of smoke, bidi smokers spread the smoke, making people exposed to it passive smokers and increase their health risks too. The user has to breathe in the smoke constantly and puff the bidi to prevent it from dying down which again has serious health issues. Research conducted shows that the health risk is much higher among bidi smokers than those who puff of cigarettes.
Compared to cigarette smokers bidi smokers run higher risk of
- Oral cancer – 42%
- Respiratory diseases – 69%
- Inthrathoracic organ diseases -69%
- Lung – 35%
- Larynx – 112%
Bidi consumers often come from low economic background and are at most of the times unaware of its ill effects on their health. The misguided perception about the bidi among its consumers is that unlike cigarettes it is a natural, handmade product with lesser factory manufactured chemicals like cigarette.
Bidis are often purchased lose without any package and they do not have any printed warnings. Even if they are bought in package, there is no statutory warning label on the package and even in the rare cases where they are present, the users may not know to read or understand it. Unlike the cigarette smokers these people are ignorant and do not know what they are getting into. The anti-tobacco ads promoted by Government of India which had been focusing on cigarette smoking has realized this aspect and is now trying to concentrate on prevention of tobacco usage through showing the ill effects of gutka consumption, eating paan and bidi smoking. The manufacturers often avoid tax payment, which allows them to sell the product at lower rates than other licensed tobacco products.
With the increasing competition in market, the manufacturers came up different flavors of bidi including fancy types like vanilla, mango, strawberry or chocolate besides the traditional ones. These have attracted young smokers, as young as 10 year olds leading to serious illness and even death in some cases.
Though Bidis came into existence in 17th century, the usage began to increase only after Gandhi’s promotion of using Indian products gained popularity among the Indians. Most of the people gave up the usage of foreign cigarettes and tobacco products and started using Bidis which were made in India by the Indians. Initially prepared by the workers of the tobacco industry who could not afford expensive cigarettes but took the waste products and wrapped in leaves to enjoy a smoke in the evening after hard work, today Bidi manufacturing is a flourishing industry where the owners are minting millions of rupees.
Though the government implemented regulations to control the bidi manufacturing, it has survived as a cottage industry employing men to work in factory for higher pay, whereas women are allowed to work from home for lesser pay. Most of the workers of bidi industry become addict to the harmful product due to its easy availability and constant exposure to it. Even those people who abstain from smoking bidi suffer from the increased cotinine levels in their blood. The sufferers are often women and children from the rural or semi-urban areas who are driven to work in the industry due to prevailing poverty.
The home based workers of bidi create constant exposure to the dust and fumes of tobacco, thus causing health hazard for all the family members including small children and even infants in some cases. Most of the people exposed to bidi manufacturing suffer from diseases like asthma, bronchitis and tuberculosis besides cancers and heart disease.
You can find beedis in “paan shops” like in the picture above. By all means try it, they are cheap and cheerful and you never know you just might like it. Don’t forget to bring some beedis home with you. Just remember that bidis are as harmful as cigarettes.
If you want to enjoy India to the fullest then you might wish to get this book: Travel India: Enjoying India to the Fullest: Things to do in India