The tiny kingdom of Bhutan has gone furthest of all by banning the sale of tobacco products altogether. The tobacco-free age is just around the corner.
As previously covered on this blog, Bhutan's government enforced the tobacco ban with remorseless vigour using the full apparatus of a despotic state. Nevertheless, a 2011 study found a thriving black market and widespread tobacco use in all its forms. As I wrote at the time...
Published in International Drug Policy, ‘History of Bhutan’s prohibition of cigarettes: Implications for neo-prohibitionists’ takes a look at how the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has been getting on after seven years of tobacco prohibition.
There is, says its author, “a thriving black market and significant and increasing tobacco smuggling… 23.7% of students had used any tobacco products (not limited to cigarettes) in the last 30 days… tobacco use for adults has not ended or is even close to ending… cigarette prohibition is instrumental in encouraging smuggling and black markets… The results of this study provide an important lesson learned for health practitioners and advocates considering or advocating, albeit gradual, but total cigarette ban as a public policy.”
That’s right. Prohibition still doesn’t work.
In 2013, Tshering Tobgay became Prime Minister of Bhutan. I immediately warmed to him when he called Bhutan's notorious Gross National Happiness measure a "distraction" because I had referred to it as the "Gross National Distraction" two years earlier. He is doing his best to bring some sanity back to Bhutan and has decided to stop flogging the dead horse of prohibition.
In 2012, a compromise was brought before parliament allowing some concessions which, as Tobgay said in a blog post, were not good enough. (Yes, he blogs! And he is on Twitter.)
...the amendment, like the existing Act, does not recognize the simple fact that prohibition has never worked and will not work. That’s why a black market quickly (and effectively) established itself in spite of the draconian provisions of the existing Act. That’s why, in the year since the Tobacco Control Act came into effect, many people took their chances despite the stiff sentences in it. Of the many, 84 people got caught. And of them, 39 people have already been sent to jail.
If the amendment goes through, a minority of us will continue to be able to procure and consume tobacco legally. But for the most of us, if we consume tobacco, we will continue to be doing so illegally. That would make us criminals. And because the penalties have now been staggered, expect a bigger black market; expect many more criminals.
And now—with apologies for the dodgy English from this Bhutanese website—this has happened...
Bhutan’s U-turn on tobacco ban
Bhutan’s second parliament is likely to set the history of ‘ban lift’ as it takes steps to do so one after another. Very recently the country lifted ban on import of furniture [!!! - CJS] and alcohol.Now the country’s Upper House resolves that ban on import of tobacco must end. In a majority resolution on Monday (3 February 2014), the house said ban on import and sale of tobacco products must end to control the black market.
Well done Mr Tobgay. We wish you well in bringing Bhutan to its senses. Now we just need to make The Lancet understand...