Senate bans sale of candy-flavored smokes
Legislation to keep potent, candy-flavored cigarettes known as bidis or beedies out of the hands of Mississippians â€” especially minors â€” was passed Wednesday by the state Senate.
Senate Bill 2064 now goes to the House, where a similar bill is pending.
Sen. Gloria Williamson, D-Philadelphia, said the cigarettes are produced in India and she bought a package of four for $1.50 in a store in east-central Mississippi.
Williamson said the cigarettes are marketed to minors.
"The problem is they can actually make kids get hooked on cigarettes," she said.
Come July 1, maximum penalties on sellers would be up to $500 on first and second offenses and up to $1,000 on a third violations.
Bidis, made from the flakes and dust of dark tobacco leaves, are hand-rolled, filterless cigarettes that are available in a variety of candy-like flavors. They are imported, mainly from India and Southeast Asia, and have become popular among some younger smokers because of their relatively low price.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has reported that smoking a bidi produces three times the carbon monoxide and nicotine and about five times the amount of tar in a typical cigarette.
California, Illinois and West Virginia now have bans in place. Several cities have also banned them. In Mississippi, like in other states, the sale of tobacco products to minors is already against the law.
Bidis are about half the size of regular cigarettes, tapered at both ends and tied with a tiny, colored thread. Previously sold only at specialty tobacco stores, bidis now are popping up at gas stations, convenience marts and record stores.
Williamson said the bidis are being labeled as "herbal" cigarettes. She said the packages contain no label as to the ingredients or a warning that they may be dangerous to the user's health.
Also Wednesday, the Senate without debate passed a bill to tighten DUI laws by lowering the measure of intoxication from .10 percent to .08 percent blood alcohol content. The House has a similar bill.
Senate Bill 2848 now moves to the House.
The bills come in response to a federal mandate that states set a .08 percent standard by 2004. States refusing to do so will see millions of dollars in federal highway construction money shifted to public safety programs.
The difference between .08 percent and .10 percent could come from having one or two extra drinks in a short period, experts say.
On Wednesday, the House voted 116-5 for a bill to extend compulsory school attendance rules to students who turn 17 during a school year. Current state law only requires students to stay in school until their 17th birthdays.
The House also voted 119-1 in favor of the bill requiring the state Department of Information Technology Services to establish policies for use of cell phones by state employees.