Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Gainfully employed? An inquiry into bidi-dependent livelihoods in Bangladesh
  1. Anupom Roy1,
  2. Debra Efroymson2,
  3. Lori Jones3,
  4. Saifuddin Ahmed4,
  5. Islam Arafat4,
  6. Rashmi Sarker4,
  7. Sian FitzGerald3
  1. 1Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2HealthBridge Foundation of Canada, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  3. 3HealthBridge Foundation of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
  4. 4WBB Trust, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  1. Correspondence to Anupom Roy, Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales, 2109, Australia; anupom.roy{at}


Objectives This study sought to increase government, civil society and media attention to the tobacco–poverty connection in Bangladesh, particularly as it relates to bidi-dependent livelihoods.

Data sources This study consisted of a literature review that examined the socioeconomic impacts of tobacco farming, the working conditions of tobacco workers and the impact of tobacco on consumers, and a primary research study among bidi workers and users. The research included in-depth and semistructured interviews and focus group discussions among bidi workers and a closed-ended quantitative survey among bidi users.

Data synthesis Most bidi worker families earn about $6.40 per 7-day work week, leaving them below the poverty line. The majority of bidi workers are women and children, classified as unpaid assistants, who toil long hours in toxic environments. Bidi users are primarily low-income earners who spend up to 10% of their daily income on bidis; the average proportion of income spent on bidis decreased as income increased. If bidi expenditures were reduced and spent instead on food or local transportation, many higher value jobs could be created. This could also mean better health and nutrition for those currently engaged in bidi work.

Conclusions The results of this study illustrate the linkages between tobacco and poverty. Tobacco control is not simply about health and the environment, but also about the living conditions of the poorest of the poor. If we are to improve the lives of the poor, we must address the root causes of poverty, which include the production and use of tobacco.

  • Tobacco production
  • tobacco products
  • poverty
  • Bangladesh
  • economics
  • labour
  • qualitative study
  • economics

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Funding This study was funded by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use (BI) through a grant from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). Neither the BI nor The Union played any role in the design of this study, in the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data, in the writing of the report or in the decision to submit this paper for publication.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Like many other countries, Bangladesh does not yet have a human research ethics review board. All ethical issues involved in this project, including participant confidentiality, were carefully addressed by the researchers. This research project was constantly supervised by an ethnographer who received intensive ethics training at an Australian university. Despite the institutional deficiency in getting ethics approval, the researchers carefully followed all ethics protocols provided to them.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.