Tobacco consumption and the poor

Tobacco consumption and the poor: An ethnographic analysis of hand-rolled cigarette (bidi) use in Bangladesh

From Ethnography

There are an estimated 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, among whom 80 percent live in low and middle income countries. This paper explores the link between cultural norms of reciprocity and hierarchy as well as the socio-economic structure of Bangladesh with its inequality, poverty and exploitation contribute to the tobacco consumption and related health problems of the poor. It specifically examines Bidis, or hand-rolled, filterless tobacco cigarettes, marketed to and consumed by the poor in Bangladesh. Inexpensive Bidis offer smokers relief from physical ailments specific to the poor: hunger, indigestion and constipation. More than this they are a socially accepted mood-altering drug offering relief from their everyday tensions, angers, perceived exploitations and disappointments.

This study considers the bigger picture and highlights how Consideration of tobacco use goes far beyond health to aspects of education and social justice: it is on the wane amongst the wealthy and on the rise amongst the poor, and profits from its production are heavily concentrated amongst the elitist few. Meanwhile, the workers – who represent so many of the users – live in abject poverty.

Abstract

Bidis, or hand-rolled, filterless tobacco cigarettes, are largely marketed to and consumed by the poor in Bangladesh. In exploring perceived rationales and the situational contexts of smoking, this study identifies the crucial connections betweenbidi smoking and the social and economic forces that influence choices and shape the contexts of individual suffering. Ethnographic research in Netrakona District revealed that inexpensive bidis were used to gain relief from physical ailments specific to the poor, such as hunger, indigestion and constipation. Bidis were found to be a socially accepted mood-altering drug that symbolizes relief from their everyday tensions, angers, perceived exploitations and disappointments. I argue that both cultural norms of reciprocity and hierarchy as well as the socio-economic structure of Bangladesh with its inequality, poverty and exploitation contribute to the tobacco consumption and related health problems of the poor.

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Article details
Roy, A. (2011). Tobacco consumption and the poor: An ethnographic analysis of hand-rolled cigarette (bidi) use in Bangladesh Ethnography DOI: 10.1177/1466138111413337

     
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