- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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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