HRRIC throws light on the unmonitored reality of the Bidi industry and its impact on the health and economy of India
The Unmonitored Killer
Tobacco addiction and usage is the leading cause of premature death worldwide. While a significant amount of study and research have revealed the harm cigarette smoking causes, there is less research and awareness about the negative health effects of non-cigarette Tobacco products, such as bidis, commonly used in populations of low socioeconomic status have on users.
Bidis are inexpensive, small, hand-rolled Tobacco products commonly smoked in most parts of South Asia which accounts for a user base of more than 73 million users across India. Of which 6,00,000 succumb to tobacco-related death every year, making bidis the number one killer among tobacco products.
Manufactured by cottage industries in South East Asia, Bidis tend to evade local and international Tobacco regulations and taxes enforced on factory-made cigarettes and are thus sold at cheap prices in low-grade packaging, mostly devoid of health warnings. Cheaper than commercial cigarettes, Bidis are made in herbal and flavored varieties to attract young users, misrepresented as safe and natural Tobacco alternatives to cigarettes.
According to research published, Bidi smoking amounted to 805.5 billion rupees in ill health and early deaths in India. Bidis are extremely popular in India, attributing to 81% of the Tobacco smoked and 72 million regular users over the age of 15.
Unfortunately, according to studies, it’s the poor who bear the brunt of these costs. This unmonitored use of Bidi Tobacco is seen pushing more households into poverty. Shockingly, one in every five households in India faces “immense expenditures” due to mounting healthcare costs, resulting in pushing more than 63 million people into poverty.
Ironically, despite volumes of evidence on the need and effectiveness of taxing Tobacco products, taxation has been underutilized as a toll in India to regulate Bidi smoking, resulting in these alarming consumption numbers.
The Health Factor
Though smoking cigarettes is hazardous to health, Bidi smoking directly accelerates severe baseline respiratory impairment, all-cause mortality, and cardiorespiratory outcomes.
Research revealed that Bidis are thereby more harmful than regular commercial cigarettes owing to:
- Bidis tend to contain three to five times the amount of nicotine and more tar and carbon monoxide as compared to regular cigarettes.
- People who smoke bidis increase their risk of suffering from oral cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, oesophageal cancer, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
- The risk of heart disease and heart attack is three times higher for bidi smokers than non-smokers.
- Bidi smoking is associated with emphysema and increases the risk of chronic bronchitis.
- Owing to a lack of added chemicals that tend to help with combustion, smokers have to draw on a bidi cigarette more often, more forcefully to keep it from going out. Thus, resulting in higher levels of toxins inhaled as compared to traditional cigarettes.
- Average smokers take around 9 puffs of regular cigarettes whereas smokers puff approximately 28 times on Bidis.
The Real Picture
Come to think of it, anti-smoking campaigns have never really penetrated the poor and rural areas of India, which is where your largest bidi user base thrives.
Estimates by WHO has shown that eight times as many bidis are sold in India as compared to cigarettes. Despite the higher taxation policies being applied to cigarettes, there seems to a huge void in the application of the same policy framework laws towards monitoring bidis. This occurs due to the opposition the government tends to face whenever it raises taxes on bidis. The main opposition argument is that if the sale of Bidis decreases, millions of women employed in this labor-intensive bidi industry, will lose employment and in some cases their only source of income. Sadly, most of these women, employed in the industry; work from home and are most of the time assisted by their children, making them prone to a majority of health problems, such as musculoskeletal, respiratory, eye, and skin problems.
It is not the dearth of regulations so much as braving the opposition to change that is the challenge for the government. Yet a radical step is needed to confront this costly scourge in India.