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Bhutan Steps up Draconian Tobacco Laws

If I told you I wasn’t one to complain about tobacco legislation, I’d be blatantly lying. I get angry over every third or fourth article I read when I search “cigar” or “tobacco” on Google News, and I’ve written my fair share of entries about nannies and such. But every time I read one like this, I realize that the U.S. doesn’t have it that bad—neither do a lot of other countries.

Bhutan is a small country south of China and northeast of India, and is the first country in the world to outlaw the sale of tobacco products. Private smoking is allowed, but citizens are only allowed to import 200 cigarettes or 150 grams of other tobacco products per month—the average cigar is about 12 grams, so that would allow for about 12 cigars per month.

To make matters worse, the government passed some new legislation this year that allows police to raid people’s homes in search of tobacco products. They’ve even gone as far as to train a special tobacco-sniffing dog to help them find tobacco stashes. Shopkeepers who sell tobacco and private citizens who fail to provide customs receipts face up to five years in prison. And this legislation didn’t exactly squeak by—only 4 of the 65 voting members of parliament opposed it.

Needless to say, people aren’t happy about the new laws. Bhutan’s largest selling newspaper, Keunsel, had this to say in an editorial: “When it comes to the penalties in the tobacco control act, it is, in every sense of the word, draconian.” We couldn’t agree more.

Opposition leader Tshering Tobgay wrote about the new laws in his popular blog. “It’s a new year. And I have a new year’s wish: that the first person to be caught and jailed under the Tobacco Control Act is a member of parliament,” he wrote.

Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley said the law was passed in the “collective wisdom” of the members of parliament. He added, “In many ways it is no different from psychotropic drugs, for which the penalty in certain countries is death.”

I’m going to point out just two of the things that are wrong with that sentence. First of all, tobacco is very obviously separate from the aforementioned psychotropic drugs. People smoke cigars because they taste good, not because they get you high. And think about it—has anyone ever taken acid because it tastes good? Not that I’ve ever heard of. Second off, is he suggesting that the new law is justified because, “hey, at least we’re not executing people?” This story gives a new meaning to the term “nanny state.”

So whenever I have to go outside to light a stogie, while I’m not excited to stand in the cold, I’ll at least appreciate that the cops can’t raid my house looking for undeclared stogies or throw me in jail for buying a box of cigars. Yet.