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Consumer News Release

For immediate release -- Friday, December 3, 1999.

Attorneys General Call for Action Against "Bidi" Cigarettes

Miller: "Bidis are more damaging than traditional cigarettes and are flavored to make them attractive to children."

Des Moines-- Attorney General Tom Miller and colleagues from across the nation are urging federal officials and the Congress to take action to stop importation of hand-rolled, flavored "bidi" cigarettes produced primarily in India.

"Bidis are more damaging to health than traditional cigarettes and they are flavored to make them attractive to children," Miller said. "That's a lethal combination."

There also is evidence that child labor is used to produce bidis. On November 24, the U.S. Customs Service banned importation of Mangalore Ganesh brand bidis after the agency received evidence that indentured children's labor produced the bidis.

Forty-nine Attorneys General today sent letters to U.S. officials detailing the dangers posed to American youth by bidis and calling attention to the child labor issues. The letters were sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Customs Service Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and key Congressional committee leaders.

"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 their letter.

Bidi smoke contains more than three times the amount of nicotine and more than five times the amount of tar as regular cigarette smoke, the Attorneys General noted. Bidi smokers also breathe in more toxins because bidis are puffed more frequently than regular cigarettes to prevent them from going out, and because inhaling requires greater pulmonary effort due to bidis' shape and poor combustibility. Bidi smokers have higher risk of heart disease, lung cancer and other cancers.

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, and many other flavors. The flavorings make bidis more attractive to minors.

Bidis are often available at smoke shops, and they can be purchased through the Internet. Recent "sting" operations by several 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.

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