Hard times for 'betel nut beauties' as Taiwan tries to kick deadly addiction

Story highlights

  • Betel nuts are a popular snack throughout Asia
  • Taiwan is trying to kick the addictive habit, which causes cancer
  • They are usually sold by scantily clad young women

Taipei, Taiwan (CNN)Ling Ling, 20, stands by the side of a highway on the outskirts of Taipei.

The top she wears is tight, and the transparent miniskirt she's wearing reveals a tattoo on her hip. She's waiting for truck drivers or working men to stop and buy her goods.
    In most other cities, it might be assumed those "goods" were sexual services.
      But not here.
      Ling Ling sells betel nuts, an addictive snack that is hugely popular in Taiwan, India, Myanmar and other parts of Asia.
      "The more beautiful you are, the more money you can make," she says. "That's why I dress like this."
      Ling Ling prepares betel nuts behind a full-height transparent window in Taipei.

      Deadly and addictive

      Chewed by almost a tenth of the world's population, betel nuts -- or quids as they are sometimes referred to -- are the fourth most commonly used psychoactive substance after tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated drinks, according to World Health Organization.
      Along the streets and highways in Taiwan, neon-lit booths with scantily clad "betel nut beauties" serve customers who pull up in their cars or trucks.
      Often wrapped in betel leaves, or paan, and chewed like a large fibrous chewing-gum, the betel nut gives a buzz on a par with several shots of espresso or, some say, amphetamine.
      But, unlike a daily cup of coffee, the buzz can also be deadly -- giving users mouth cancer.
      Some users say betel nut cures a hangover in no time.