The thin, hand-rolled cigarettes come in flavors such as chocolate, cinammon, lemon-lime, vanilla, cherry and strawberry. While the flavoring may be attractive, bidis release three to five times more nicotine and tar, and more carbon monoxide than most regular cigarettes. The consist of shredded tobacco rolled in dried tendu leaves, a plant native to India. Many people say they resembled rolled marijuana "joints."
While bidis have been imported into the U.S. for at least 20 years, their popularity has risen among young people more recently.
Bidis have become a target of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids which has begun educating teens and parents about the dangers associated with them.
"A study in San Francisco has indicated that about 30 percent of kids are smoking these bidis," says William Novelli, president of the campaign. "It seems it's a fad, especially popular among ethnic minorities and urban kids and will probably spread."
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has asked the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on bidis and to regulate them.
Harkin and Novelli believe the candy flavorings are intentionally used in bidis to lure children. They hope the FTC can help prevent teens from buying the cigarettes over the Internet. While kids have an easier time buying bidis in stores, Novelli says children can buy cartons online with credit cards.
"We have to get rid of the marketing that attracts children," Novelli told CBS News. "These bidis are attractive, fashionable. We don't know how extensive smoking of bidis is. We know smoking is up among teens per se, and among pre-teens. It's a very serious problem."
The San Francisco research found that almost 7 out of 10 packs of bidis had no health warning label. Novelli says that the research available suggests bidis smokers run the same risks of developing oral and lung cancers that threaten the health of cigarette smokers.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is the largest non-government initiative ever undertaken to target the use of tobacco by young Americans. For more information, see the Campaign's Web site at hrefwww.tobaccofreekids.org.