Smoke Rings

Photo: Brian Lary
Two new types of cigarettes – kreteks and bidis – are getting teens, especially those in 7th and 8th grade, started with tobacco. These imports from India and Indonesia hit the United States the late ‘90s.

Kreteks (called “kree-tecks”) are a cigarette that combines cloves and tobacco. Most are about 60% tobacco, with ground cloves, clove oil, and other additives making up the rest of the smoke. They come from Indonesia.

Bidis (called “bee-dees”) come from India. They are hand rolled, and often tied at the ends. They are wrapped in a tendu or temburni leaf, and filled with dust and flakes from cheap, dark tobacco. To cover the harsh tobacco taste, bidis are flavored with chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, licorice, or mango. Bidis exported to the United States add flavors popular with the bubble-gum crowd: cherry, strawberry, and grape.

Not only do kreteks and bidis taste like candy, they are cheaper than standard cigarettes. They are smaller than standard smokes, and made with the cheapest tobacco that can be found. In Asia, only the poor use them. Anyone who can afford it smokes something better.

Touted as "Safe" Alternative

The makers of kreteks tout them as a “safe” alternative to regular cigarettes. After all, they contain less tobacco. They also lack a filter, and tend to go out easily. You have to really suck on them to keep them lit. With half the tobacco, you get three times the carbon monoxide and nicotine of a regular cigarette. Throw in the effects of inhaling burned clove oil (bad for anyone with asthma) and you have 20 times the chance of lung problems. Bidis are no better. The tendu and temburni leaf wrapper burns badly, so you have to suck on them, too. You puff on that unfiltered bidi three times as many times as you would on a standard cancer stick. Bidis deliver three times the nicotine as a standard cigarette, and five times the tar.

You can see the appeal kreteks and bidis have for teens – young and stupid ones. They taste like candy. You indulge in what you think is an adult habit while satisfying a child’s sweet tooth. They come from some exotic far-away place, to show everyone else how worldly you are.

You cannot beat bidis for being edgy, either. They look like joints. You can make others think you are being naughty – smoking marijuana, instead of plain old tobacco. With the perfumes and flavorings they add to bidis, the smoke stinks as badly as pot. Bidis and kreteks have everything that a thirteen-year-old needs to think they are being adult.

Step back before lighting one. Look at what you are doing. No one starts smoking as an adult. Reach 21 without starting to smoke, and you are not going to. The older and more “adult” people get, the more likely they are to quit smoking. Starting to smoke does not signal that you are an adult. It lets everyone know you still a child.

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Written by Mark N Lardas, copyright 2006, Mark N. Lardas, all rights reserved. Portions reprinted with permission from Listen, December 2006. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.