Attorney General Calls for Crackdown on'Bidi' Cigarettes

Minors Able to Purchase Harmful Tobacco Products on the Internet

December 6, 1999

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. is urging federal officials and Congressional representatives to take action to stop the importation of hand-rolled flavored cigarettes produced primarily in India. The cigarettes, called bidis, are an even greater health risk than traditional cigarettes and are flavored to make them attractive to children.

Attorney General Curran, together with the Attorneys General from all 50 states and the Virgin Islands, signed letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Customs Service Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and the Chairs of several Congressional committees detailing the dangers posed to American youth by bidis and the possibility that the manufacture of bidis involves indentured children's labor.

On November 24, 1999, the U.S. Customs Service banned the importation of Mangalore Ganesh Bidis upon receipt of evidence that indentured children's labor produced the bidis.

"We are writing to Congress and to federal agencies to urge that the federal government do everything possible to enforce laws to ensure that bidis are not available to children and youth in the U.S.," the Attorneys General wrote in their letter.

"The states, for our part, intend to do whatever we can to stop the sale of bidis to minors and to work with the federal government in whatever way we can to end this threat to the health and safety of our children," the letter adds.

"These ‘bidis' are bad news," Attorney General Curran said. "One, they have candy flavors that make them appealing to young people, and two, they are even more harmful than regular cigarettes."

Bidis are puffed more frequently than regular cigarettes to prevent them from going out. Inhaling a bidi cigarette requires a deeper "drag" due to its shape and poor combustibility. Consequently, bidi smokers breathe ingreater quantities of tar and other toxins than smokers of regular cigarettes. In addition, bidis contain more than three times the amount of nicotine and more than five times the amount of tar than regular cigarette smoke.

Studies have found that bidi smokers have two times the risk of lung cancer as do those who smoke Indian filtered cigarettes, have five times the risk of suffering heart disease as do non-smokers, and are more at risk for cancers of the throat, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, lungs, esophagus, stomach, and liver than are regular smokers.

The Attorneys General noted that bidis produced for the American market, unlike those made for Indian consumption, are flavored to taste like strawberry, chocolate, mandarin orange, vanilla, grape, lemon-lime, clove, mint, cinnamon, wild cherry, mango, cardamon, licorice, or raspberry. The flavorings make bidis more attractive to minors.

Bidis are readily available at most smoke shops, gas stations, liquor stores, ethnic food stores, and selected health stores. Bidis can also be purchased through the Internet and recent sting operations by numerous state Attorneys General offices, including Maryland's, indicated most on-line sellers did nothing to verify the ages of buyers before selling them the cigarettes.

A nine year-old child in one state successfully purchased bidis over the telephone using a toll-free number provided by a web site. In another instance, a minor who purchased bidis from the same seller received free sample packs of mango, grape, and lemon-lime bidis with her order.

The Attorneys General issued their call for action during the Winter Meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General near Phoenix, Arizona.

For Further Information Contact:
Frank Mann
Special Assistant to the Attorney General
(410) 576-6357