Bhutan has become the first nation to ban smoking within its borders. I found this out via the linked Slate article and they point out that it’s a tricky issue banning something as “personal” as smoking. It seems Bhutan is the best suited nation to quit smoking because of its cultural roots.
Since Dec. 17, it has been illegal to smoke in public or sell tobacco. Violators are fined the equivalent of $232—more than two months’ salary in Bhutan. Authorities heralded the ban by igniting a bonfire of cigarette cartons in the capital, Thimphu, and stringing banners across the main thoroughfare, exhorting people to kick the habit. As if they have a choice.
So, having sat out the traditional development rush, Bhutan hopes to steer its own course, avoiding the mistakes of the industrialized world. Because of its homogenous and small population (anywhere from 800,000 to 2 million people, depending on which estimates you believe), Bhutan just might succeed in barring the demon weed. The nation’s unusual culture makes a sudden and complete tobacco ban possible. The country is ruled by a benevolent king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who is widely revered and universally obeyed. “Bhutanese are pretty happy to sacrifice for their fellow citizen,” says Linda Leaming, an American who has lived in Bhutan for the past eight years. “The individual is subjugated to the good of society.”
It also helps that Bhutan has few smokers compared other nations. Only about 1 percent of the population lights up, according to the health ministry. (Foreign observers believe the actual figure is 3 percent or 4 percent.) Tobacco isn’t grown in Bhutan. It is a very small, poor market, and it costs a tremendous amount to import goods. All these are factors that have reduced interest in cigarettes.