Thumbs up on To­bacco Ban

Southasia - - Briefing -

Bhutan’s op­po­si­tion leader Tsh­er­ing Tob­gay, made head­lines last month when he con­demned the coun­try’s anti-smok­ing law, the strictest in the world, call­ing it “ut­ter mad­ness” af­ter an­other group of peo­ple were sent to prison for pos­sess­ing cig­a­rettes. Mr. Tob­gay ar­gued that “sup­port for to­bacco con­trol may be high, but that does not mean that we are will­ing to send fel­low cit­i­zens to jail for pos­sess­ing small amounts of to­bacco.”

Mean­while, speak­ing of the “tyranny of the ma­jor­ity” while ex­plain­ing how the law came into be­ing, Bhutanese Prime Min­is­ter Jigmy Y. Thin­ley made it clear that the lawmakers have been per­suaded by their vot­ers for strict rules and reg­u­la­tions to en­sure the erad­i­ca­tion and elim­i­na­tion of to­bacco use in the coun­try.

Since the King­dom of Bhutan’s smooth tran­si­tion to democ­racy in 2008, the pop­u­la­tion has found few is­sues to get riled up about. How­ever, Bhutan’s to­bacco ban has be­come the big­gest ex­cep­tion. While op­po­si­tion lead­ers are con­fi­dent that po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing on dig­i­tal me­dia will help make a dif­fer­ence, the law which re­flects the will of the ma­jor­ity and pop­u­lar opin­ion in Bhutan is un­likely to change any time soon.

A gov­ern­ment re­port is­sued ear­lier this month, showed that 94% of Bhutanese who were sur­veyed said they were in fa­vor of the to­bacco ban. Few of the coun­try’s roughly 700,000 peo­ple ac­tu­ally con­sume to­bacco, mak­ing the Hi­malayan king­dom one of the coun­tries with the low­est smok­ing rates in the world, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Bhutan’s 2010 To­bacco Con­trol Act, which builds on an ear­lier ban on the sale of cig­a­rettes and other to­bacco prod­ucts, pro­hibits smok­ing in most pub­lic places and sets se­vere penal­ties for to­bacco smuggling.

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