Bhutan Boo-Boo

Some really sweet stuff has come out of Bhutan, a constitutional monarchy of 700,000 souls nestled in the Himalayas.

Bhutan’s progressive monarch (until this January when his son was crowned)  constructed a Gross National Happiness index, to be used alongside the Gross Domestic Product index. The countryside is largely untouched by globalization and by most of the 20th Century. Bhutan has become a symbol of an unspoiled Shangri-La-ish place the Millennials can put down the heavy mantles of their multi-tasking century.

But look fast, guys, I heard a radio news story about break dancers in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital.

And there’s a danger that threatens the Happiness quotient even more than butt cracks from low-riding pants: The Evil Weed, Tobacco.

Bhutan has enacted some of the harshest laws and penalties in the world for tobacco use Smokers are limited to 200 cigarettes per month, 15 cigars or 150 grams of loose tobacco.

Bhutan’s smoking rate is 12 percent, about half of that in highly regulated Western countries like the U.S.

Bhutanese smokers may be required to show receipts that they obtained their tobacco legally. Merchants will have to show their records to police, too. They better. Selling or possessing illegally imported tobacco is a felony in Bhutan, subject to three or five years in prison.

Bhutan’s leaders say they want to be the first smoke-free country in the world. To that end, the country is training tobacco-sniffing dogs to ferret out contraband in people’s homes and businesses.

The Bhutanese authorities argue convincingly that plenty of countries ban other drugs (like heroin and/or alcohol) that kill fewer people than tobacco.

To those authorities, the Sensible Smoker might say: “The government should not persecute what any individual does that is risky – and should not assume that individuals do not have good reasons for the choices they make.”

For government authorities to promote, subsidize, even cajole people into making “good” choices is great. But our leaders must always remember that “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” Or more precisely, “One man’s toxin may be another man’s medicine.”

“Tobacco is garbage, ” they answer. “Garbage in – Garbage out!”

But GIGO doesn’t work when assessing human beings, who may have a vastly different view of what constitutes “Garbage.”

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