Tobacco Crime

So the monk who was caught with some packets of BABA kahini gets three years in jail. I am waiting for the uproar. Although I don’t understand why we had to wait for a person to go through all this to make a noise about just how wrong the tobacco control act is. Why did we have to put a monk into prison, to start stopping something terrible.

Why didn’t people say something when this act was passed? The fact that we let this happen fills me with dread. What other things are we going to allow in our country?

It amazes me that people still need to hear the debate about whether the TCA is right or not, and for MPs to defend the act.

Let me tell you why this law is wrong. First of all, take the monk’s case. He was unlucky. There have been many people who have been caught with ‘illegal’ cigarettes, but who have been let off with a warning. Sonam was unlucky that whoever caught him wasn’t in the mood to give him another chance. It was also unfair that other people should get a warning and Sonam should get three years.

When I was working for the papers, I knew all the other journalists, and let me tell you, 90 percent of the journalists smoked. I don’t know how many gave up after the ban. I wouldn’t put my money on the odds of even a single person to have given up, though. I know that there are a lot of smokers in Bhutan. Almost every other person I know smokes. And they haven’t stopped smoking after the ban. And it’s too hard to get the receipt. Most of the smokers today smoke ‘illegally’, and everyone must have broken that law at least once. If the enforcers really do their job our jails will be full and there will still be more ‘criminals’ outside. Yes, if we caught all the ‘criminals’ in Bhutan, ours will be the biggest crime rate in the world, thanks to the TCA.

The laws of a country are sacred, and they are to be framed after very careful thought. Yes, we don’t want our people to smoke or consume tobacco. But is this the right way of going about it? How is it that we, the Bhutanese, who are known for GNH and Buddhism, chose the path of punishment rather than compassion and teaching? The end should not justify the means. The law should only step in when we cause harm to someone else. When a father drinks and beats his wife and children, the country should think of stepping in to improve the lives of the victims.

Our lawmakers need to look seriously at their jobs and their responsibility. Spiderman was told that with great power comes great responsibilities. I would like to remind our MPs of this. It is a great responsibility to decide the laws of the land. We chose you to shoulder this responsibility, for some reason or the other, whether you really were deserving of this responsibility or not. Please prove to yourselves and to us that we were right in choosing you.

Someone once told me that if there is a law that many of the people in the country are not following, then it must be a bad law. I think it was the Chief Justice. This law makes criminals out of people.

The court said today that the monk broke the law, and the law says that he should serve three years prison term. But this law is wrong. And it should be changed before it can do any more damage.

Surely there is a better way for us to stop people in our country from smoking. A way that is more suited to the image that Bhutan projects to the outside world.

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