Experts estimate that almost 100 million deaths over the last century have been caused due to smoking bidis and tobacco in India. ‘Our calculations are derived from using the most conservative estimates and yet present mortality estimates which are significant and alarming,’ researchers Pranay G Lal, Nevin C Wilson and Prakash C Gupta said in a study published in Current Science. The study also concluded that of the estimated 100 million deaths 77% of them were caused due to bidis. This is has led the researchers to ask for a review of tobacco control interventions and re-examination of policies that promote the tobacco industry in India. They said since it takes three to four decades for a smoker to die after he starts smoking, the current tobacco use was expected cause deaths only in the coming decades.

‘For consumption in the last four decades, the mortality may be partially realised and some of the deaths will occur in near future’, they said. ‘Since the bulk of manufacturing and consumption occurred in the latter part of the last century, the early deaths of these smokers will happen in the first half of this century.’

It estimates that 190 and 41 million lifetime bidi smokers and cigarette smokers, respectively between 1910 and 2010 ‘So in effect, if we were to cease all production and consumption in 2010, deaths would continue to take place. Less than one-fourth of the deaths from 100 year of smoking (from 1910-2010) have already taken place, and the three-fourths of the deaths will take place in the next 40 years’, the study said.

The data was collected from 23 sources including industry reports and academic journals from 1920 to arrive at these estimated figures. To derive total bidis produced, they used total bidi tobacco produced in India using data from the Ministry of Agriculture and divided it by the average tobacco contained in each bidi. These estimates were compared with 14 other sources.