An Indian health ministry report was released on Monday, listing the prevalence of beedi smoking, its consequences - both economic and health wise - and public health policy strategies.
The report highlighted that an estimated 100 million people - mostly from the poor and illiterate section of the Indian population- smoke beedi or hand-rolled cigarettes in India. Smoking beedi caused 200,000 tuberculosis deaths, says the report.
The first analytical, scientific and systematic study on the beedi-smoking trend for the year 2004-05 was sponsored by the Indian Union Ministry of Health supported by the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the US Department of Health and Human Sciences.
The study led by Prakash C. Gupta, director of Research at Healis, Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health in Mumbai that supported the study, and Samira Asma observes that though beedi smoking causes the same diseases as cigarette smoking does - lung cancer, oral cancer, heart diseases, lung disease and addiction, it is more harmful than cigarette smoking.
Beedi is the cheaper Asian version of cigarette wherein tobacco is hand-rolled in 'tendu' leaves. Smoking beedi is considered more harmful than cigarette smoking because it contains more tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, carcinogenic hydrocarbons and other toxic and class A carcinogenic substances such as nitro amines (NNN and NNK). However, beedi has less tobacco than cigarettes.
"In India, beedi smoking contributes substantially to death from tuberculosis," said Health Secretary Naresh Dayal.
He also added, "One million of the estimated two million cases of tuberculosis in India are due to smoking. But beedi smokers with tuberculosis are at three times higher risk of death compared to TB patients who are non-smokers."
According to the report, about 85 per cent of the world's beedi is produced in India in 290,000 beedi-making units. Beedi-rolling centers are predominantly in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where cheap labor is available.
Beedi from India is also exported to the US, marketed in various flavors like cherry, mango, honey, strawberry and chocolate. About 14 brands of filtered and unfiltered beedi brands are marketed to the US of which 5 brands come under the 'herbal beedi' tag.
The study titled "Beedi and Public Health" records that there are more beedi smokers than users of any other kind of tobacco products. "Beedi is the most widely used form of tobacco. There are 240 million tobacco users of which 100 million smoke beedi," health secretary Naresh Dayal said.
The habit is found the highest in rural Muslim males and next in rural Hindu males. The habit of beedi-smoking is also found in children who are 8-10 years old.
Beedi smoking is harmful for not just smokers, but in the case of passive smoking in those exposed to second-hand smoke as well.
"Beedi also harms workers rolling beedis through inhalation of tobacco dust, while farmers and farm workers handling tobacco crop also suffer severe health problems," the report said.