Saturday 5 March 2011

Victim of happiness

You'll recall our old friend the King of Bhutan, the racist tyrant who invented Gross National Happiness. He is a hero to fans of Utilitarianism, who believe in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Not all the people, mind, just the majority. If you don't agree with the state's definition of happiness then you're out in the cold. Or, if you live in Bhutan, in prison:

No Smoking: Monk jailed for three years in Bhutan

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, famed for its unspoilt natural beauty and social policy of gross national happiness, found itself at the centre of bitter controversy yesterday after a Buddhist monk caught carrying tobacco worth under £2 was jailed for three years.

Sonam Tshering, the first person to be punished under tough new anti-smoking legislation, wept after he learnt of his sentence. "I should be punished, but the penalty could have been lighter," the tearful 23-year-old told reporters. "I wasn't aware about the act."

The headline is misleading as Mr Tshering was caught with chewing tobacco.

Bhutan banned the sale of tobacco in 2005 and tightened its laws last year to combat smuggling, requiring consumers to provide valid customs receipts for cigarettes bought outside the country. The monk was stopped crossing the border back into Bhutan in January carrying 48 packets of chewing tobacco he had bought in India.

That's not as not as much as it sounds. Indian chewing tobacco comes in a little package the size of a ketchup sachet with enough in it for one use. They cost about 3p.

In an eight-page ruling handed down by the district court in the capital, Thimphu, judges said the monk was clearly in breach of the Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2010 because he had not paid duty for the tobacco.

So is this a tax evasion issue rather than a possession issue? It is the case that even in Bhutan you can use tobacco so long as the government gets a cut? This aspect of the case hasn't been mentioned in previous new stories and is not expanded upon here.

The ruling added: "Ignorance of law is no excuse ... The law represents the popular will of the people."

No it doesn't. Bhutan is not a democracy. And even it was, could there be a better illustration of the tyranny of the majority than sending a man to prison for chewing a plant?

The sentence, though technically the most lenient for the offence...

The mind boggles.

...has triggered a wave of anger within Bhutan. Supporters of Mr Tshering, who have held rallies and organised Facebook pages, argue that the punishment does not fit the crime.

D'ya think?

"I think this will adversely affect the image of our country," said Lily Wangchuk, a former diplomat and now director of the Bhutan Media Foundation. "We have a very good reputation right now. We are known for having visionary leadership that has set in place a sensitive and balanced growth, we have gross national happiness, people know us as a land of paradise, a Shangri-La."

Only because people don't know a damn thing about the place, and particularly about its persecution of Nepalese immigrants.

"Personally, I feel that a harsh sentence for such a small crime will get us bad publicity."

Good. Perhaps people will see in the phony backwater of Bhutan the inherent despotism of Gross National Happiness. Until the government can be trusted not to fall back on coercion and suppression (ie. never), its only legitimate function is to facilitate the pursuit of happiness. In the case of private behaviour, that means getting out of the way and keeping its bigoted opinions to itself.

I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating: When Bhutan banned tobacco in 2005, the Lancet said 'This is progress". Progress indeed. Monks thrown in jail and police raiding people's homes with sniffer dogs. And all in the name of tobacco control. I'd like to end by saying it couldn't happen here, but I really can't see any reason why not.


Smoking Hot said...

But it is happening here ... everyday, day-in, day out. UKBA systematically confiscate tobacco by means that are unethical and unjust. There is no attempt to seperate the legitimate shopper from the illegitimate shopper. As in the Channel 5 prog about Stanstead Airport where an undercover policeman was filmed and a statement made that there is a crackdown in operation. lt said that the UKBA's published advice to passengers was not being adhered to ... by the UKBA! Even though they UKBa's guidelines state an amount of 3200 they were working on an amount of 2,500 or over. One wonders what UKBA policy maker made up this amount of 2,500 as cigarettes come in cartons of 200 so the amount UKBA is working to is 12 and a HALF cartons! This amount is supposed to be smuggling? ... yeah right! lf you put forward this 'smuggling' as a business plan to a financial expert he'd laugh. Take away the expences for travel etc and everytrip would be in the red. However for personal use it is valid and financially sound.

lncidentally the undercover police stopped and searched a passenger AFTER UKBA/Customs had already stopped and searched him and let him through!

The legitmate shopper is being harassed and intimidated to stop buying their goods from the EU whereas the illegitimate shopper will continue regardless.

l have little interest in what happens in Bhutan. What about our own citizens that are suffering from tobacco control? Shouldn't that be our priority?

JJ said...

I would have liked a much harsher punishment. A thoroughly brutal thrashing delivered to the soles of the feet with a heavy duty motorcycle chain, and then a minimum of 10 years hard labour after which they must write a 250,000 fully illustrated dissertation detailing how ASH can further its aims for tobacco control across the globe.

Personally I would like smokers here in the UK to mandatory attend designated internment centers on a weekly basis where they will receive deep therapy, interspersed with daily beatings (but twice on Sundays) before being released back into society. I would envisage them wearing bright pink overalls in custody with the slogan ‘I’m a filthy smoker’ on the back. Smokers could be chained together and paraded around in their local communities for all to see.

Any smoker walking down the street would be asked by local council smoking cessation officials, whether they have thought about smoking or tobacco products in the last 48 hours, if so, then they would be wrestled to the ground, cuffed and taken to the nearest smoker holding cell for further questioning.

I really do think this could get off the ground.

PS Thanks for all the tax revenue.

Anonymous said...

From Dave Atherton

It is very hard to not invoke Godwin's Law when discussing matters like this.

Speechless at both the law and particularly the sentence we can but hope that tobacco control one day might grow a conscience.

Smoking Hot said...

Dave, Godwin was just stating the laws of probability. Forums used it as an axcuse to stifle debate. lt never was and never will be a law.

Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei is a damn good yardstick to judge freedom by.

Anonymous said...

ASH UK, their benefactors at J&J, GSK and RJWF and the corrupted anti-tobacco world leaders at the UN must be ECSTATIC today when they read this bit of news. Arnott probably had a double orgasm. Yes, finally someone is making the world smoke-"free", just the way ASH is demanding.

George Speller said...

Anon: Arnott of the now discredited ASH having a double orgasm? I just puked on my keyboard. Thanks a bunch!

jredheadgirl said...

"Gross National Happiness"...

What a f*ck^n joke. What's not so funny is tobacco control's willingness to deal with such despotism in order to fulfill their agenda...Very telling indeed.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm curious as to how the WHO reacted to the initial announcement of Bhutan's anti-smoking policy.

It's a relatively small percentage of people who are actively making any noise about anti-tobacco. My personal view is that the exporting anti-tobacco junk science and policies into backwater countries is a real opportunity for this small army to compel others to do something about this corruption, and entirely expose institutional anti-tobacco.

This is a no-brainer: Western democracies have no business exporting questionable and extreme anti-tobacco policies into countries with horrible human rights records.

I highly doubt that Bhutan would be throwing a 23 year old into jail for 3 years for tobacco possession if they weren't misguidedly following the example of the socially engineered trend of Western, modernized nations.

If a country, let's say, cuts a people's hands off for shoplifting without giving them a proper trial, it isn't hard to figure out how they're going to interpret the call for a stern anti-tobacco policy.