"Alternative" Cigarettes Not Safer Than Regular Cigarettes
Bidis and Additive-Free Cigarettes still provide a nicotine punch

January 17, 2002

Bidis: they may look different than regular cigarettes, but they still pack plenty of nicotine. Bidis are alternative cigarettes made in India. They are thin and resemble marijuana cigarettes, but they are made with tobacco. The tobacco in a bidi is ground up and then rolled in a brown, tendu leaf.

Many kids are attracted to bidis because they can be flavored. Bidis are also less expensive and easier for young people to get than regular cigarettes. According to the CDC, 12.9% of high school students and 4.4% of middle school students reported that they had smoked bidis. Another type of alternative cigarette is the "additive-free" cigarette that is made with tobacco, but does not contain any chemical additives or preservatives. Many people believe that bidis and additive-free cigarettes are less harmful and addictive than regular cigarettes. New research proves them wrong!

Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse asked 10 adult smokers to smoke four different types of cigarettes:

  1. American Spirit: an unfiltered, additive-free cigarette
  2. Irie Bidi: an unfiltered, strawberry flavored bidi
  3. Sher Bidi: an unfiltered, non-flavored bidi
  4. Regular Brand: a filtered cigarette the subject usually smoked

Levels of nicotine in the blood and exhaled carbon monoxide were measured in each of the 10 smokers before and after smoking each of the four types of cigarettes. Each type of cigarette raised the smokers' blood levels of nicotine to their highest levels after two minutes. The American Spirit cigarette raised nicotine levels more than any other type of cigarette even 60 minutes after smoking. The increases in blood nicotine levels after smoking the bidis were equal to or higher than those attained after smoking a regular cigarette. Exhaled carbon monoxide (CO) levels also increased after smoking each type of cigarette. It was also noted that the subjects smoked additive-free cigarettes and bidis differently than their regular cigarette brand: the subjects took more puffs and smoked longer with American Spirit cigarettes and Sher bidis than their regular cigarettes.

Although bidis are smaller and contain less tobacco than regular cigarettes, they contain a higher concentration of nicotine (21.2 mg/g) than either American Spirit cigarettes (17.6 mg/g) or regular cigarettes (16.3 mg/g). Despite their differences in size and nicotine content, bidis and regular cigarettes increased nicotine levels in the blood of smokers to similar levels. It is possible that the increase in nicotine levels resulted from a higher packing density and smaller diameter of bidi cigarettes. Also, unlike regular cigarettes, bidis are wrapped with a non-porous tendu leaf. This wrapping reduces air mixing and therefore delivers more nicotine because it is not diluted on its way to the smoker.

These data suggest that bidis and additive-free cigarettes are NOT safer alternatives to regular cigarettes. These cigarettes deliver at least the same amount of nicotine as regular cigarettes and have the potential to cause addiction. Don't be fooled by the candy flavors of bidis: they are just as dangerous as regular cigarettes.

Reference and further information:

  1. Malson, J.L., Lee, E.M., Moolchan, E.T. and Pickworth, W.B. Nicotine delivery from smoking bidis and an additive-free cigarette. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 4:485-490, 2002.
  2. Malson, J.L., Sims, K., Murty, R. and Pickworth, W.B. Comparison of the nicotine content of tobacco used in bidis and conventional cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 10:181-183, 2001.
  3. Nicotine and the Brain - Neuroscience for Kids
  4. Nicotine Addiction - Neuroscience for Kids
  5. Cigarette Ads - A Promise Broken - Neuroscience for Kids

GO TO: Neuroscience In The News Explore the Nervous System Table of Contents

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