Sunday, May 15, 2011
The 2004 Ban Did Not Jail People, The Act Does
The tobacco talk is back. There is no ignoring the butt. And this time the act that is the tobacco act roped in some heavy star cast, the likes of which give any dead and idle thing the very breath of life, and with that, a lot of legitimacy.
They came, they saw and they left, with a lot of incredible stuff that only scientists can manage. The great Albert Einstein almost comes to mind with that magical concoction and connotation called the Scientist. The zest of the International Tobacco Control’s report to the government, and more pertinently to the Ministry of Health was, very exhaustive to say the least. But the report had a general tone of positivity vis-a-vis tobacco control and usage in the country.
To sum up, here is a real tight summary as commented to by an observer who read the Bhutan Report and provided this brief: “The report provides an accurate estimate of the prevalence of tobacco use in the four districts of Bhutan, as well as the effectiveness of the national ban on the sale of tobacco and smoke-free policies. This report also provides a detailed picture of the tobacco control policy landscape in Bhutan and describes the tobacco-related beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of tobacco users and non-users of tobacco in relation to these legislative efforts.” Needless to say, it hits home. The point was never the tacit approval of tobacco use; matter of fact, abuse of tobacco users has been a traditional trait in that you were called names, insulting ones at that, with the ubiquitous Motikpa taking the cake. Hence the disapproval was always there. It’s no surprise that the majority of the Bhutanese, including those who do the tobacco, actually are in favor of discouraging the habit.
The resistance, which was absolutely absent when the first ban was imposed, reveals yet another facet of the Bhutanese psyche. There was no need to resist a ban that was seen as generally good and preventive. You see a lot of people who are addicted to tobacco do the tobacco because the body requires that nicotine, yet at the time, there were no grievances; least of all against the government.
The reason there were no complaints was because of one fundamental difference that changes everything: the ban in 2004 did not put people in jail. The Tobacco Control Act of 2010 does and that is the only reason why there are plenty of Bhutanese who feel wronged. This feeling of discontent is justified. Labeling them antagonistic is plain dismissive. They want to help discourage the habit as much as the MoH does, and want to laud their government for such initiatives. But again that jail factor comes into play and distorts everything.
What is so unacceptable about ideas that make so much more sense and do not hurt anybody’s sensibilities? Tax the darn thing a hundred times the actual MRP. Give non-smokers the right of way, which is to say a person can tell any other person with a cigarette dangling in his mouth to butt it out. Make the environs so unfriendly to smokers that really, they start feeling weird, left out, cast away and actually become pariahs. This is one reason why most smokers in the west give up the habit, or try quitting the fag – it’s a huge disincentive that discourages the habit and encourages prospective thoughts that really focus on quitting.
What we are doing is exactly the opposite. Pandokans are small scale business enterprises that are at the bottom of the economic pyramid and are generally run by the lowest-income groups. Their primal trade is tobacco. We are not only snatching away livelihoods that support a large number of families but to add that one last nail, we bar them and jail them.
Fear tactics never work. History is living proof. The best way to get anything done is always on the path of least resistance. In a way, corporal punishment is back, wearing just another disguise.
And didn’t we do away with that?