Friday, March 4, 2011
If you're indignant that your boss just shut the smoking room and outraged that you have to leave the bar to light up, take heart. Life could be worse. You could be Bhutanese. I didn’t write that. An exalted reporter for an American magazine did. Nonetheless it’s interesting to note the last line. Life is definitely getting worse. Not for lack of cigarettes but for lack of cash. You see, it’s all going up in smoke.
Hi, I’m WDHO Wills. People in the know call me Wills. I’m a nicotine addict. No, I’m not here to seek help; I like my cigarettes just fine, thank you. I’m here to bring to your notices the rising insane and inhuman prices of cigarettes. Yes, I can find and buy a pack of cigarettes whenever I want. The problem’s the deep hole it keeps burning in my pockets rather than the supplies. No, I haven’t pondered quitting, you see, it’s become a fashionable forbidden fruit, plus nicotine has the reputation of being the most addict-able substance available on Planet Earth, so certainly not something one can just shrug off on a weekend.
The country made international headlines with the ‘Tobacco Ban’ in 2004. If you Google it, these are some of the banner headlines you get:
“The first nonsmoking nation.” “Smoking is stubbed out in Bhutan.” “Bhutan forbids all tobacco sales.”
“Bhutan's total tobacco bans a breath of fresh air.” “The butt stops in Bhutan: Tobacco banned.”
“Bhutan: Smoke-Free at the Top of the World.”
We sure did hog the headlines and boy did it excite them! People abroad assume nobody smokes in Bhutan. Couple that with the Shangri-La and GNH make-up and you get the picture-perfect-postcard: a fairytale smoke-free kingdom you can write about and broadcast to admirers the world over. Four years later and the number of smokers have not decreased. It’s just how things are. Human nature cannot be banned. Even totalitarian states with cold-blooded dictators with all their armies and their gulags failed to ban what their citizens desired.
The winter cold bites, as does the reality. Now that it’s become a contraband product and a necessary one at that, we’ve smugglers and black-marketers. The market is flourishing and mushrooming, clandestinely. It’s hidden rather smugly and we all play a part in it, out of some well-intended cultural politeness that makes us all ambassadors of ‘Brand Bhutan’. The religious fold would say smoking is anathema, spiritually. Respect to that. Those of my fold could ask, ‘what about alcohol? We even produce them in honor of and to commemorate the reign of our kings’. This is where I get confused! Are we in effect saying to our young, ‘do the drinks but not the smoke?’ The act is over. The curtain must fall on this charade.
The hospitals record more alcohol related complications than tobacco and illegal drugs put together. The government makes no money out of the ban. The consumers pay through their lungs and policing such a lucrative trade is a jolly good luck affair that probably diverts the little detectives we have from preventing actual crime.
There are probably a hundred more pressing issues that call for the ban. Corruption, nepotism, apathy and the lot come to mind. But again that’s not measurable. I’m WDHO Wills and my appeal is for a ban-free legalized tobacco that is reasonably taxed and regulated. We tolerate responsible drinking; smoking can also be moderated and segregated. The ban makes more criminals. God gave Adam and Eve a paradise with a ban on apples. That’s exactly what they bit and ate. It was god’s fault; you don’t give someone a garden minus the flowers. This is not a pro-tobacco rant; it’s against stupid laws. Perhaps it’s worth a debate in the National Assembly. Happy New Year!
*Update: This butt got wiped three years back when the act was a ban, now enforced seven years to the bunny. Today it’s become an Act and Two Fellow-Bhutanese, a Monk and a Driver, are paying the price. The Monkey (I’m thinking that’s how they saw the monk) got a Non-Boilable Felony of the 4th Degree and was sentenced to Three Years day before yesterday.
The same verdict awaits the Driver in all profanity. Unless…and that’s a misnomer, unless the members of Pink Floyd re-Band and Do a Re-cut Rendition of Flying Pigs on the Wing.