Flavored Cigarette Use
Soaring Among
Middle Schoolers
By Donald Bradley -The Kansas City Star

Some middle-school students like to unwind with a cigarette after the bell rings.
Some light up a chocolate cigarette. Others have a strawberry one. And for the really hip seventh-graders, it's a mango smoke.
They are called bidis , flavored cigarettes from India that are fast catching on with America's middle-school children, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials warn that parents should not be fooled by the youthful perception that a bidi is not a real cigarette and thus not harmful. Bidis contain higher levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than regular cigarettes do, according to the national centers.
Compounding the problem, health officials say, is that bidis (pronounced bee-dees) are less expensive -- about $2 a pack -- and easier for young people to obtain than regular cigarettes. They come packaged in bright colors, and to top off the allure, bidis are hand-rolled, tapered and have no filter.
"They look like joints," Michael Eriksen, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said, referring to marijuana cigarettes. "Kids think they convey a very cool and trendy image."
A large bidi manufacturer in India, Sundarlal Moolchand Jain Tobacconist, denies the adverse health findings. Company officials could not be reached by telephone. Its Web site says bidis have less tobacco and are "healthier than cigarettes."
The site also says bidis have herbal properties and a unique lingering taste.
Like most trends in American pop culture, the craze began in coastal cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston.
The trend has now reached Kansas City.
An eighth-grader at a Kansas City, Kan., middle school said his peers sometimes used bidis. And a 16-year-old south Kansas City girl said they were popular with "the alternative kids, you know -- the pot-smoking, nose-piercing crowd."
"Bidis aren't taking the place of regular cigarettes," she said. "It's a different thing. They're like...exotic. Nobody buys bidis and smokes them all. But if you take them to a party, they're all gone."
Adding to the alternative appeal is that bidis are not sold in places that traditionally handle cigarettes. In California, bidis are big at surf shops.
"Makes it more of an underground thing," the Kansas City girl said.
Laurie Hornberger, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Children's Mercy Hospital, does not know how prevalent bidis are in Kansas City, but she is aware of their popularity elsewhere.
And she has no doubt about the target market.
"When they start flavoring cigarettes like candy and selling them in bright-colored packages, they are preying on young people," Hornberger said.
Eriksen declined to speculate on whether Indian companies were aiming at American teens, saying: "We don't know their motive, but we know the result."
No American cigarette manufacturer makes bidis, Eriksen said. And only bidis exported to the United States are flavored.
Traditional cigarettes remain the most popular tobacco product among young teens, but bidis have quickly claimed a share of the teen-age market.
A CDC survey of 642 Massachusetts youths showed that 40 percent had smoked bidis. In San Francisco, the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center polled students in four schools and determined that 58 percent had smoked bidis.
Both studies were done in 1999.
Tom Earp, who runs the Tobacco Road Smoke Shop at 8155 State Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., said he was doing a brisk bidi business.
"We sell to a lot of young people," Earp said, referring to customers in their early 20s.
His shop never sells tobacco products to minors, he said, but he sees why bidis would appeal to youngsters.
"They're flavored and they look like a joint," Earp said. "Kids probably think they're pretty cool."
Another problem health officials see with bidis is that by being sold in ethnic food stores, surf shops and skater shops, they sometimes escape the scrutiny of regulations that prohibit sales to minors.
"Sometimes they don't even come with the surgeon general's warning," said Dee Ann Allen of the Los Angeles County Health Department.
That is a terrible oversight, Eriksen said, because bidis actually pose greater health risks than regular cigarettes, partly because bidis are not tightly packed, meaning they are difficult to keep lighted.
"So kids puff harder," Eriksen said. "They inhale more smoke, more toxins, more tar, more nicotine and ultimately more carcinogens into the lungs."


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