OLYMPIA - December 3, 1999 - Attorney General Christine Gregoire is urging federal officials and Congressional representatives to take action to stop the importation of hand-rolled flavored cigarettes produced primarily in India.
The cigarettes, called bidis, are an even greater health risk than traditional cigarettes and are flavored to make them attractive to children.
The Attorneys General unanimously signed letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Customs Service Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and the Chairs of several Congressional committees detailing the dangers posed to American youth by bidis and the possibility that the manufacture of bidis involves indentured children's labor.
On November 24, the U.S. Customs Service banned the importation of Mangalore Ganesh Bidis upon receipt of evidence that indentured children's labor produced the bidis.
"We are writing to Congress and to federal agencies to urge that the federal government do everything possible to enforce laws to ensure that bidis are not available to children and youth in the U.S.," the Attorneys General wrote in the letter.
"Bidis are becoming a very dangerous fad and there are serious marketing, health, and child labor issues being raised," Gregoire said. "The Attorneys General have sent a clear signal that we want to work with Congress in any way we can."
Bidis are puffed more frequently than regular cigarettes to prevent them from going out. Consequently, bidi smokers breathe in greater quantities of tar and other toxins than smokers of regular cigarettes. In addition, bidis contain more than three times the amount of nicotine and more than five times the amount of tar than regular cigarette smoke.
Studies have found that bidi smokers have two times the risk of lung cancer than those who smoke Indian filtered cigarettes, have five times the risk of suffering heart disease as non-smokers, are more at risk for cancers of the throat, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, lungs, esophagus, stomach, and liver than regular smokers.
The Attorneys General noted that bidis produced for the American market, unlike those made for Indian consumption, are flavored to taste like strawberry, chocolate, mandarin orange, vanilla, grape, lemon-lime, clove, mint, cinnamon, wild cherry, mango, cardamon, licorice, or raspberry. The flavorings make bidis more attractive to minors and are readily available at most smoke shops, gas stations, liquor stores, ethnic food stores, and selected health stores.
Bidis can also be purchased through the Internet and recent sting operations by numerous state Attorneys General offices indicated most on-line sellers did nothing to verify the ages of the undercover minors before selling them the cigarettes. The children and youth who participated in the undercover buys ranged in age from nine to seventeen years.
A nine year-old child successfully purchased bidis over the telephone using a toll-free number provided by a web site. In another instance, a minor who purchased bidis from the same seller received free sample packs of mango, grape, and lemon-lime bidis with her order.
The Attorneys General issued their call for action during the Winter Meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General near Phoenix, Arizona.