Yes, we do tend to go on about the risks of smoking and how you need to quit smoking, but it’s with good reason. Just consider that according to the American Lung Association approximately 438,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses every year — including victims of secondhand smoke.
For every person who passes away from a disease caused by smoking, there are 20 more people living with at least one serious disease caused by this menace. In fact, cigarette smoking has been pegged as the biggest cause of preventable death in the world.
In spite of these statistics, many of us can’t kick the habit or simply refuse to do so. Some people are lured in by alternative ways to keep smoking as part of their lives, such as so-called “natural” cigarettes.
There are two types of supposedly “safe” cigarettes that are causing great concern in the U.S. A “bidi” is a small cigarette, which is made from dark tobacco flakes and dust (basically, tobacco leftovers), and rolled in a “tendu” or “temburni” leaf.
Imported from India and Southeast Asia, these are often flavored — perhaps to mask their poor quality — with cherry, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, etc. They sometimes even come with colorful strings around the ends — how alluring! It’s important to note that the bidi does not have a filter. A “kretek,” also known as a “clove cigarette,” is a popular Indonesian cigarette, which contains tobacco, cloves, and other substances.
Although they might appear or taste different from the usual cigarettes here in America, bidis and kreteks are not actually safer. In fact, it seems that they could be even more dangerous for your health than regular cigarettes. These natural-looking cigarettes contain greater concentrations of nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, making them both more lethal and more addictive. Plus, there’s the fact that these flavored cigarettes are unfiltered.
In their countries of origin, where they are more popular than the Western type of cigarette, bidis have been linked to a higher risk for oral, lung, esophagus, and stomach cancer. Moreover, Indian studies show that bidi smokers are at three times the risk for heart attack and heart disease than regular smokers are — and four times more likely to develop chronic bronchitis.
In Indonesia, kretek smokers have been shown to be at an increased risk for “acute lung injury” and are 13 to 20 times more likely than nonsmokers to have abnormal lung function.
So, these “natural” cigarettes don’t sound much better than regular cigarettes after all. Until some U.S. studies are done on bidis and kreteks, we won’t know the full effect of this increasingly popular habit on the U.S. population.
Until then, don’t be sucked in by appearances (or by the cheap price). Although it might look natural and come in tasty flavors, a bidi is still a cigarette with health complications similar to those of our traditional Western cigarettes. As are kreteks, even though they might have a more appealing smell than usual cigarettes.
No matter how they’re packaged, cigarettes should be avoided — for your health and for the health of those people around you.