Prevention efforts that need to be taken to control bidi consumption

Updated on Sep 15, 2022 01:46 PM IST

Due to its low price, wide distribution and marketing and promotional strategies, the highly addictive and fatal bidi is consumed widely in our country. Here are the prevention efforts that need to be taken to control bidi consumption

Prevention efforts that need to be taken to control bidi consumption(Om Thakkar)
Prevention efforts that need to be taken to control bidi consumption(Om Thakkar)
ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2016, India has the second largest number of tobacco users (268 million or 28.6% of all adults in India) in the world – of these at least 1.2 million die every year from tobacco related diseases. One million deaths are due to smoking and over 200,000 due to secondhand smoke exposure where nearly 27% of all cancers in India are due to tobacco usage and these facts are proof that tobacco products, including bidis, are not only hazardous to our health but addictive and hard to quit.

Due to its low price, wide distribution and marketing and promotional strategies, bidi is consumed widely in our country since the bidi industry has been hugely effective at supplying a highly addictive and fatal product at an affordable pricing and in doing so, the masses are exposed to yet another risk-factor perpetuating the cycle of poverty and ill health. Since the industry is unorganized and unregulated, bidis have little quality control and are more dangerous than the western-style cigarettes.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Vishal Rao, Head and Neck Oncologist and Member of Karnataka Government’s High Power Committee on Tobacco Control, suggested, “Regulating the sale, marketing and use of bidi and other tobacco products is the only way to reduce access to youth and children, and save them from a lifetime of misery and suffering. Tobacco Vendor Licensing is a process and strategy to reduce the availability and accessibility of bidis to the vulnerable sections of the society, particularly youth and children.”

He explained, “Vendor licensing will prohibit marketing, manufacturing, storage, packaging and processing of any tobacco products in the state without a license. Licensed vendors will be required to comply with the provisions set out in the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003 and the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. Licenses also increase the likelihood that vendors will comply fully with tax policies, ensuring that the government is maximising its revenue from tobacco taxes. Vendors will come under the ambit of Section 6, which bans the sale of tobacco to and by minors, as many vendors around education institutions are often breaking the rules and are getting away with petty fines.”

He elaborated, “Overall, a strong VL policy will help regulate the sale of bidis, keep a check on the number of licensed vendors and most importantly, reduce access to children. It will make way for building a Tobacco-Free India, where children below the age of 18 years will not be able to access bidis and other tobacco products as it will penalize display of tobacco products in shops selling toys, sweets, soda, candies, biscuits, chips and electronic gadgets. Regulation will help prevent illegal sale of vendors who are selling loose cigarettes and bidis to children and under aged. If the sale of tobacco can be streamlined through vendor licensing and regular monitoring and enforcement and will ensure they strictly adhere to the law.”

According to Prof Pankaj Chaturvedi, Head Neck Surgeon and Deputy Director, Cancer Epidemiology at Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, bidis are often represented in the popular narrative as being natural and herbal and unfortunately, there is very little research in the public domain on the adverse health effects of using bidi. He said, “These subtle and not-so-subtle but completely untrue, advertising claims contribute to the misconceptions among youth and young adults that bidis are a safer alternative to the conventional cigarettes. It is absolutely crucial and essential to keep in mind that bidis are not herbal and safe. Their composition is addictive and harmful - studies have shown that bidi smoking is associated with increased risk of oral cancer, cancers of lung, stomach and esophagus, coronary heart diseases and myocardial infarction and chronic bronchitis.”

He highlighted, “Bidis produce higher levels of tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine than cigarettes, also because its low combustibility contributes to the deeper inhalation of the bidi smoke. There is a need to raise awareness among the people, especially the rural and non-urban communities on the harmful and deadly effects of smoking bidi. We must not allow the bidi-related disease burden in this country to surge in an uncontrollable manner. It is essential to ensure constant messaging around the health hazards and dangers associated with bidi use so that public education can result in positive and long-term behaviour change.”

Asserting that there is definitive evidence that exposure to online marketing increases tobacco use, especially by kids and youth, Dr Nandita Murukutla, Vice President, Global Policy and Research at Vital Strategies, informed that the Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement (TERM) have found that bidis are being:

1. Advertised online, often without the required pack warnings

2. Sold directly to consumers online, particularly via Facebook

3. Bidi marketing frequently uses cultural imagery

She said, “Social media marketing by bidi and other tobacco products companies is a growing public health concern. Digital media companies’ policies have not been sufficient to curb such marketing, as has been evident from our analysis. Continued online tobacco marketing undercuts the good effects of other existent tobacco control measures. Therefore, it is crucial that government and public health-led efforts to curb online tobacco marketing be prioritized.”

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