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Bidi Cigarettes

A persuasive speech by Michelle Karl


"Itís something different. Itís something fun. Itís like a little accessory." "and they taste good." Chocolate, Vanilla, Mango, Licorice, Cherry, Root Beer - exotic, imported - 100% natural candy flavored poison. Meet the Bidi Cigarette being smoked by at least a million young Americans across the country.

Imported from India, Bidis are small hand-wrapped, flavoured cigarettes. For years these flavoured cigarettes sat on the shelves next to regular cigarettes - no one really them much attention. But now with the spotlight glaring on the negative affects of cigarette smoking, teenagers are flocking towards what they believe is a healthier alternative - Bidis. However, Dr. Howard Koh, the public health commissioner of Massachusetts, stated in an NBC Dateline Interview on June 19, 2000, "In the sea of conventional cigarette products, which are deadly in and of itself, we have now a more addictive and potentially more deadly product." Iím not here today to lecture you on the harms of smoking, but I am here to convince that if you do smoke or know someone who smokes that you donít choose bidis, not only because they are harmful to Americans, but they are even more harmful to the thousands of Indian children making them.

Today we are going to examine the tragedy ensuing as the popularity of Bidis continues to increase. We will begin by taking a light to the myths surrounding the safety of Bidi cigarettes, next we will deeply inhale as we indulge ourselves with the horrors surrounding the issues of child labor, we will then exhale as we examine what steps have already been taken, and finally we will put out several methods of combating this plague.

But first, we need to examine the myth that Bidis are safer or healthier than regular cigarettes. Bidi manufactures claim Bidis are 100% natural and theyíre right. In fact Bidis are made in India from dried tobacco leaves which are wrapped in the Tendu Leaf and tied with a string at the end, thus giving the look of a marijuana joint. Teenagers see bidis as an herbal alternative that isnít as harmful as cigarettes and yet still looks cool. Where has this health myth come from? From the literature and websites of manufactures such as the Sunderal Moolchand Jain Tobacconist web site. As we can see they state that Bidi Cigarettes have 100% natural ingredients, however their claim that Bidi Cigarettes are healthier than Cigarettes is 100% False. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in March 1999, "When tested on a standard smoking machine, Bidis produced approximately three times the amount of carbon monoxide and nicotine and approximately five times the amount of tar as cigarettes." In addition, Donald Shopland, coordinator of the Smoking and Tobacco Control Program at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD stated in the November 1999 Journal of the National Cancer Institute, "We would expect the same 50 to 60 carcinogens found in regular cigarettes also to be found in bidis. The Public should not consider them a safe alternative to cigarettes."

Even worse, Bidis are filterless. This means that a person smoking a Bidi cigarette must puff harder and more often to keep the Bidi lighted, resulting in the hazardous chemicals going straight to the lungs. Arizonaís Attorney General, Janet Napolitano, stated in the December 22, 1999 issue of the Arizona Republic that, "Bidis smokers have twice the risk of lung cancer as those who smoke filtered Indian cigarettes, five times the risk of heart disease as non-smokers, and are more likely to get upper respiratory, stomach, or liver cancer than regular smokers." Sadly, despite these facts, "A recent survey by the federal government indicated as many as a million kids in junior high and high school have smoked Bidis." Health officials fear that the appeal is only going to continue to rise especially since the Bidis sold in the United States contain candy-like flavours. Clearly Bidis are not a healthier alternative.

Now that we have dispelled the health myth, you may be asking how these flavoured cigarettes are made? Many of them, with the tiny fingers of Indian children. Remember when we were little, how there was nothing better in life than playing with toys? Can you imagine writing this letter, "My sister is ten-years old. Every morning at seven she goes to the bonded labor man, and every night at nine she comes home. He treats her badly. . . I donít care about school or playing. . . All I want is to bring my sister home from the bonded labor man. For 600 rupees I can bring her home. . . We will never have 600 rupees." Did you know that 600 rupees is only about $17.00? Sadly, 9 year old Lakshimi, who wrote this letter to the Human Rights Watch in (date) 1996, was only one out of the thousands of Indian children with this fate. The Human Rights Watch estimated 325,000 children labor in the Bidi industry and the number continues to grow.

These children spend their lives rolling somewhere between 1000 to 2000 Bidis a day. When the children protest or donít work properly they are beaten. Kubee, seen here, is a bidi roller. In a 60 Minutes II episode on November 23, 1999 he recounted how he was burnt for not properly doing his job. Yet its not only employer abuse that destroys these childrenís lives. The Human Rights watch reported that these children have stunted growth and physical deformities from sitting hunched over their work all day. Even worse, following in the steps of their parents, these children, may die of lung diseases such as tuberculosis or asthma from the constant inhaling of tobacco dust.

Now that we have seen the harms Bidis cause in America, and the horrors of child labor, you might be asking yourself how it is possible that it has been almost five years since this Human Rights report and there are still children bonded in slave labor. Mr. Ray Kelly, the commissioner of US Customs Service explained in the 60 Minutes II interview that the custom services have to tell the Indian Government when they are coming, and be escorted to the Bidi Factories. With this advanced warning, they are unable to find evidence for prosecution.

Additionally, in 1996, the Beedi Act was even imposed in India, however this act only protects the rights of those working in "Industrial Premises" which does not include a private-dwelling house. So these children now work in homes where the contracting agents claim they are relatives and avoid the law.

What about buying the freedom of these children, it is only about $20 per child, right? But this doesnít work either. According to the Human Rights Watch, in 1995 the Child Labour Abolition Support Scheme, also known as CLASS, was created. CLASS set out to buy back the freedom of children in the Bidi Industry. Yet, 30% of these free children, are still working in the Bidi Labor force. Once the money went to pay for the childrenís freedom, parents would often sell their children again..

However, not all attempts to stop these travesties have failed. This past December 60 Minutes II went into India and exposed the Bidi Manufactures in the state of Tamil Nadu. With the information from this episode the US Customs Service was finally able to ban the Mangalore Ganesh Beedis brand from the United States. A follow up episode in August of 2000 reported that the children employed by the Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Works were all freed with a court affidavit. However, when the Human Rights Watch gave their original report there were seven other states with Bidi Productions. We still need to save these children.

In addition, the ban of one brand, Governor George Ryan signed a law in June which bans the sale of Bidis to anyone, regardless of age, in the state of Illinois. Yet, Illinois is only one state out of fifty.

We have seen the harms Bidis are causing and what attempts have already been made to combat this new smoking craze, now we need to look at what we can do to put it out.

The first step we can take, is to simply not smoke Bidis ourselves. But we need to extend that by telling our friends and family what we have learned here today and convince them that they should not smoke Bidis. The word of mouth is a powerful tool. Next, we need to petition our own city and town legislatures and convince them to ban the sale of Bidis in our hometowns. If there is no market for Bidis there will not be a reason for the manufactures to produce them.

Finally, we need to take steps to help free the children of India from the devastating life of slavery. We can do this very easily by supporting groups such as the International Justice Mission, which is committed to obtaining court affidavits to grant these children the dream of freedom. A court Affidavit is the only guaranteed way to free these children. This handout contains the IJMís web addresses. The site provides links to pages such as ask Jeeves and, and get this everytime you go to these sites through the IJMís 4mycommunity, they will receive three cents. But it gets even better, the 4mycommunity page offers links to a wide array of stores such as Amazon, the Gap, JC Penny, Office Max, Priceline, etc. By taking this one extra step when you are making an online purchase, the IJM will receive an average of 7% of your purchase. Please bookmark this page and use it as often as possible because you too can help make a childís dream of freedom a reality.

Today, we have seen the tragedy Bidis are causing millions of Americans. Also, we have examined the horrors of child labor, and what has already been done to combat this plague. But now itís our turn to help. Please remember what I have told you today. Donít smoke Bidis, tell others what you have learned, and lastly bookmark the IJMís web sites. Letís save the world from this candy flavoured, poison.