For something that looks as if it came from your rain gutter, bidis have seen a surge in popularity among the American youth. Beyond the chest – beating about the health risks of bidis, traditional tobacco connoisseurs find themselves shaking their heads and wondering why anyone would want to fire up such a ragged and tarry smoke. Why would people want to wear unwieldy platform shoes? It’s fashion.
“I don’t know why anyone would smoke them, personally,” says Greg Jones, manager of Creager Mercantile, a Denver – based tobacco wholesaler. “It’s probably just the way they look.” Until recently few people knew what they were, but in recent months bidis have made headlines. State attorneys general, including Colorado’s Ken Salazar, have urged federal officials to restrict their importation because they have become so popular with the underage youth.
Recently, Durango tobacco shop owner Don Hall stopped selling bidis at his store after agents caught him in a sting operation that targeted Internet companies selling to minors. Bidis, which minors can’t legally buy in Colorado, look nothing like traditional American- made cigarettes. Some even come in kid – friendly flavors such as chocolate and strawberry, a fact that health authorities find particularly vexing. The national Campaign for Tobacco – Free Kids maintains that the flavoring is added specifically for the American youth market.
They feature a sprinkling of bone – dry, lower grade tobacco rolled up in a green tendu leaf, a plant related to the eucalyptus, and bound at the but end with a piece of string that’s about the gauge of dental floss. Bidis are slightly tapered, and look sort of like miniature versions of the “torpedo” cigar style. Fire one up, and the ash is liable to adorn your lap like snowflakes. And since they are loosely wrapped, they are hard to keep lit and require deeper puffing.
Nor do they qualify as cheap alternatives to regular cigarettes. The price of a pack is about the same as the stuff peddled by big tobacco companies. Bidis range from $1.50 to $3.50 a pack. They’re available at a range of outlets, from traditional places such as Jerri’s Tobacco Shop to Myxed Up Creations, a Broadway shop that always carries incense, piercing jewelry and the like. Bidis are unfiltered, and new research shows that bidi smoke is loaded with about three times as much nicotine and carbon monoxide and five times as much tar as smoke from regular filtered cigarettes, according to a study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
So just what is the appeal? “I really kind of just like the look,” says Remy Parker, 22, who had fired up a bidi on the sidewalk outside of TAFT High School on a recent afternoon. “As smokes go, it’s pretty harsh.” Parker says he started smoking bidis about six months ago. A friend introduced him to the cigarettes. “I don’t smoke these all the time, but its sort of a nice change once in a while,” Parker says with a shrug. “It’s different.”
That just might be the heart of the appeal. Bidis, even the packs are non – traditional to American eyes, come off as an exotic smoke. A certain subset or juvenile smoker always goes for off – beat or image brands, such as Lucky Strikes, unfiltered Camels, or such ultra – hardcore cigs as Bull Burhams.
Bidis could be merely and extension of that, with a new generation of trend – mongers wanting to flaunt their version of with – it – ness. Bret Goodman, owner – manager of Jerri’s Tobacco Shop, has sold bidis since the 1970’s. As a high – end tobacconist, he doesn’t get many kids coming in trying to buy tobacco, but he says there is a small but steady adult market for bidis.
Goodman isn’t quite sure of the appeal. “Personally, I can’t stand anything flavored, whether it’s a cigarette or cigar,” says Goodman, generally and equal – opportunity smoker who enjoys cigarettes, cigars and pipes alike. He does note that bidis are a bit milder and sweeter than regular smokes, one of the reasons bidi critics dub them “training wheel cigarettes.”
“I tried them years ago and didn’t really like them,” he says. “The smoke smells like leaves burning in your yard. That’s what I didn’t like.” Bidis have been popular in India for centuries, where they are viewed as the “poor man’s cigarette” and cost less than a nickel a pack. Upper – class people smoked them until American cigarettes became the rage; now they are the flavored smoke of low – income and rural Indians.
So why do people smoke bidis? It’s just another trend with the youth of America, except this new trend won’t one be one to die. Smoking cigarettes has been a fashion for a very long time and people have stopped but the bulk of the smoking population hasn’t. That will be the same case with bidis. People will out grow the habit and move on to “the real thing,” and some will just stop all together. But the fact is that teens in America will be smoking bidis for as long as Americans have been smoking, “the real thing.”