Beedis are thin, often flavored, South Asian cigarette made of tobacco wrapped in a tendu leaf, and secured with colored thread at one end. It contains about 10-20% tobacco and, unlike regular cheap cigarettes, beedies do not contain added chemicals but deliver more nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar than cigarettes.
Beedi-rolling is a cottage industry in India and is typically done by women in their homes. The process of rolling a beedi is similar to that of a handmade cigarette. Beedis vary accordingly by their size. Beedi tobacco consists of three different tobaccos; each has its own characteristic. The tobacco is brought from different states and each has its own blend. For example, for a strong tobacco flavor, tobacco from the state of Gujarat is preferred. For a mellower flavor tobacco from Nipani in Karnataka state is suitable, and to help the beedies retain the fire longer Choor from Mysooru is used. Once the beedies are rolled they are kept in a specially designed oven to ensure good flavor and to remove any moisture. Due to the relatively low cost of beedies compared with regular cigarettes, they have long been popular among the poor in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and India. In India, 850 billion are smoked every year.
Beedies are available in many flavors (such as vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and mango). In the USA, their availability in Indian food markets is usually under the authorities’ radar, due to the markets’ ethnic clientele and ostensible focus on food, drink, and provisions (and omission of alcohol products). A 1999 survey by San Francisco’s Booker T Washington Community Service Center reported that 58% of high school students in San Francisco had tried Beedies, and 31% smoked them at least once a month. Seventy percent of packs purchased contained no warning labels, and about 40% did not contain tax-paid stamps, contributing to their low cost. Many students who tried beedi believe it to be less harmful than a regular cigarette due to the ease of inhalation and absence of warning labels.