More than 100 million people in India smoke unfiltered hand-rolled cigarettes, reducing their life span by about two decades, a study released Thursday said.
More Indians die from smoking "bidis" than from all other forms of tobacco combined, said the study by the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, dedicated to improving public health in India and other developing countries.
"Indians smoke eight times as many bidis as cigarettes" thanks to their affordability, said the study, released by the Mumbai-based group ahead of World-Tobacco Day on Saturday.
"Bidis are as harmful as cigarettes if not more... bidi smoke delivers many toxic chemicals at higher levels than those from western-style cigarettes," it said adding that some 800 billion bidis were sold in India annually.
Packed with "proven carcinogens, poison, toxic chemicals and nicotine" bidi smoke raises "the risk of oral cancer, cancer of the lung, stomach and esophagus, heart disease, chronic lung disease, asthma and tuberculosis," the study said.
Overall, tobacco use was the cause of at least 700,000 deaths a year in India, and most were bidi smokers, noted the Institute's director P.C. Gupta.
"At the current death rates, about a quarter of bidi smokers in would be killed by tobacco between the ages of 25 and 69, losing about 20 years of life expectancy," the study said.
The most affected were the poor in a country with over a billion people as "many people were not aware of the harmful effects of bidis and have lower literacy rates."
The study notied that bidis were the least taxed tobacco products in India, and urged the government to improve awareness of the dangers of smoking.
India's health ministry, which in 2003 passed a law banning smoking in public places and mass media advertising of tobacco products, says 40 percent of the country's health problems are due to tobacco.