Saturday 29 January 2011

Bhutan's iron fist

References to the tiny nation of Bhutan in the Western media tend to romantise the country and its supposed commitment to happiness (it uses a measure of Gross National Happiness). The less palatable truth is that Bhutan is ruled by a racist tyrant whose every whim is law. Despite its violation of human rights and persecution of ethnic minorities, some distant observers continue to see it as a Buddhist Utopia.

When you consider that some of the king's schemes to increase happiness have included banning television, banning advertising and banning tobacco, you can see how this tin-pot dictatorship appeals to those of a similarly autocratic persuasion.

What Bhutan really does is demonstrate the problems of having the state decide what constitutes happiness. Whether happiness is defined by a monarch (as in Bhutan), or by committee (as with David Cameron's ludicrous National Wellbeing Project), it will inevitably result in minorities being punished for finding their pleasures outside of the government-approved activities.

Tobacco-users are not the first minority to suffer persecution in Bhutan for not fitting the mould, but as the king clamps down on their habit, they are increasingly seeing what it's like to be on the wrong side of state's view of happiness. I say tobacco-users because the story below does not even involve smoking:

A Buddhist monk could face five years in prison after becoming the first casualty of a stringent anti-smoking law in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which vows to become the first smoke-free nation.

The monk has been charged with consuming and smuggling contraband tobacco under a law that came into force this month, the newspaper Kuensel reported Friday, having been caught in possession of 72 packets of chewing tobacco.

Bhutan, where smoking is considered bad for one’s karma, banned the sale of tobacco in 2005. But with a thriving smuggling operation from neighboring India, the ban failed to make much of an impact.

The new law has granted police powers to enter homes, threatening jail for shopkeepers selling tobacco and smokers who fail to provide customs receipts for imported cigarettes.

“He can be charged with smuggling of controlled substances, which is a fourth degree felony,” a police official from the Narcotic Drug and Law enforcement Unit of Bhutan, who did not want to be identified, told the Bhutan Today newspaper.

A fourth degree felony can carry a sentence of five years.

When Bhutan banned the sale of tobacco in 2005, The Lancet glowingly predicted that "The tobacco-free age is just around the corner." If so, Bhutan gives us a glimpse of what this brave new world will look like.


Dick Puddlecote said...

The Lancet must be so proud of tubthumping for a country which thinks gang rape and torture are acceptable methods of state control.

Surely the story of Bhutan should highlight the fact that history shows anti-smoking policies to be most vociferously taken up by brutal dictatorships who like a bit of ethnic cleansing. Says a lot about those who support such policies, too IMO.

Anonymous said...

What DP said - so true and should be shouted from the rooftops in every mainstream media since before the smoking-bans even began. Sadly, the world continues to live in a fog of lies and is heading the course toward total tyranny. Not Godwin's Law, but the truth of the matter, as has been warned, had anyone cared to listen.

Becky Johnson said...

On Monday, the Oprah Winfrey Show featured the City of San Luis Obispo as the "Happiest City in America." One of the reason's touted was a ban on smoking tobacco out of doors.

Of course, even in SLO, the ban can't really be enforced, and interviewer, Jenny McCarthy, finds a man smoking in the bit, and harasses him self-righteously.


Anonymous said...

Do you not think that Tobacco Control is beginning to fall apart under the weight of its own contradictions? I mean, at what point did a little tube of paper full of dried leaf become worthy of a five year prison sentence? When did a packet of twenty of these tubes become ‘worth’ eight euros in Ireland? Eight euros! A little box made of paper with some paper and dried leaf inside!

And don’t say that is it the duty which has driven up the ‘value’. I know that. What I am saying is that, as far as you and I are concerned, duty is not relevant. To you and I, the price we pay is the value.

Can anything be more attractive to smugglers than that? Buy them legitimately for £1 a pack and sell them for £4. Ireland has hundreds of little ports, and a few clever little subterfuges can easily avoid customs. Making a big noise, via the magisrates courts and the MSM, about a person bringing in a few sleeves of fags is no longer frightening.

I would also like to know how it is possible for tobacco to be ‘counterfeit’ (anyone notice that this word disobeys the ‘i before e convention?!). It is probably cheaper to buy the real thing than to buy substitutes or grow your own. In any case, no intelligent ‘counterfeiter’ would risk killing anyone when the real thing is so cheap.

But is it not true that the word ‘smuggling’ is ceasing to be a ‘nasty’ word? Are we (lots and lots of smokers) not beginning to regard smuggling as heroic? Once the idea that the word ‘smuggling’ is no longer a nasty word, ANY smuggling becomes a good thing in that it is one in the eye for the zealots and the thieves masquerading as politicians.

Tobacco Control is also bringing to our attention the nature of ‘duties’. Apart from taxation, what are they for? Why do they exist? What is the reason for ‘fuel duties’ or ‘alcohol duties’? (In actual fact, the origin of duties is connected with the need to raise tax for the Napoleonic (?) Wars – in particular, at the time, regarding the import of wines.)

At the moment, only a few people are asking these questions, but the ideas will proliferate. Think about this – if there was no fuel duty, how much more competitive would our goods be in the world economy?

BigMick said...

"Smuggling" has only ever been a nasty word to government. Smuggling started as a way to avoid duty or taxes on products. It can be argued that smuggling certain dangerous products, like heroin or explosives is bad, but traditionally, smuggling has involved booze, tobacco and other product the Government wishes to exploit through taxes or control the use of.