In probably the first such large-scale study of its kind, Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, in collaboration with the ministry of health proved that bidis and other forms of tobacco (supari, gutkha, among others) are more harmful than cigarettes.
The study had a follow-up period of 5.5 years with as many as 87, 222 male members from Mumbai participating in it. As per the study, the incidence of oral cancer in bidi smokers was 42% higher than in cigarette smokers. For all respiratory and intrathoracic organs combined, the increase was 69%; for lung and larynx, the increases were 35% and 112%, respectively.
Smokeless tobacco, on the other hand, was associated with cancers of the lip, oral cavity, pharynx, digestive, respiratory, and intrathoracic organs.
While the study was completed last year, it was published last month in the prestigious medical journal — Cancer Causes and Control — on March 5.
“While the popular perception is that bidi is natural, hand-rolled and has fewer chemicals, it is as harmful as cigarette smoking if not more. While there have been studies done abroad about the effects of cigarette smoking, there has been no Indian study comparing the effects of bidi smoking, cigarette smoking and smokeless cigarettes,” said Dr PC Gupta, the director of Sekhsaria Institute, based in Navi Mumbai.
In India, the bidi industry that is mostly home-grown accounts for 48% of the tobacco consumption making them much more popular than cigarettes. Despite the small quantity of tobacco it contains, bidis deliver more carbon monoxide than cigarettes.
Bidis, the report states, necessitates deeper, more frequent inhalation as they extinguish more easily. An average bidi smoker puffs a cigarette nine times as opposed to a person puffing bidi 28 times. This is harder on the lungs as compared to cigarette smoking. Besides this, bidi contains more particulate matter as they do not have filters. They also have more nicotine, as compared to cigarettes. Bidis also contain higher amounts of chemicals such as phenol, hydrogen cyanide, benzopyrenes, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. - dnaIndia
There is something wrong with this report - and it seems to reek of some American-Indian conspiracy to keep the American tobacco industry flourishing.
Firstly, there is no mention of the thousands of chemicals used in cigarettes which are not used in beedis, and its effects.
Secondly, how can a person puff 28 times on a beedi when the most you can get from a normal-sized beedi is about 10 puffs if one continuously smoke it. Perhaps the author has mistaken cigars for beedis.
Thirdly, even though beedis don't have filters, a cigarette contains about the equivalent of 4 beedis worth of tobacco in it. If a cigarette filter, for instance, blocks out 50% of the contents of a cigarette, or 2 beedi's worth of tobacco - this has to be checked - than one can then say that a cigarette is equivalent to 2 unfiltered beedis. In other words, 10 cigs=20 bidis and vice versa. Even though certain chemicals might be higher in the bidi, that might be balanced by the fact that cigarettes have thousands of other chemicals in it that the bidi does not.
Finally, just because a beedi can keep going out, that does not mean that it encourages a person to keep puffing on it. In fact, it can also mean that person would be encouraged to smoke less as he is not encouraged to puff on it because it is continuously lit. That's what happened to me personally, and a single beedi would last me from half and hour to an hour because of that. And as quite a bit of the tobacco is wasted from it burning out, i usually end up getting about 5 puffs out of it.
As for cancer rates being allegedly higher amongst beedi-smokers, that can be accounted for by beedi-smokers being relatively poor, and hence, have worse diets, lifestyles, living conditions, etc, etc, compared to cigarette smokers. Additionally, one has to ensure that the sample used all started smoking at a similar age; one has to check for socioeconomic status, or class; gender, etc.
In my personal experience, even when i smoked 1mg tar cigarettes, i still had smoker's cough, phlegm in the morning, and a heavy feeling in the chest. But when i switched to beedis, and particularly, the mild 'Engine Brand' beedi that is much milder than other beedis I've tried, this ceased. This was similarly the experience of the others i know whom moved away from cigarettes to 'Engine brand' beedis.
I am on the way to quitting now, and moving to a transitional e-cigarette experience with the Sigelei Telescope (see below) - as not smoking is still better than the mildest bidi in the world - but i thought I'd share my experience.