Mon, Nov 29, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Bhutan bans trading in and smoking of tobacco in public

AP , GAUHATI, INDIA

When the tiny Himalayan monarchy of Bhutan makes a decision, there isn't much room for compromise. Until recently televisions were illegal, and the number of tourists to the isolated nation are strictly regulated and closely monitored.

Now the country, tucked into the mountains between India and China, has gone after smokers.

Starting in mid-December, it will be illegal to buy or sell tobacco or to smoke it anywhere in public. Individuals will be allowed to bring tobacco into the country for personal consumption, but only after paying 100 percent tax on the cost price.

The fine for breaking the rules: US$225 -- a virtual king's ransom in the reclusive and impoverished monarchy.

In July, the country's parliament passed a resolution to ban tobacco sales across the country, and the royal government has framed a set of rules to bring the prohibition into effect beginning Dec. 17, Lily Wangchuk, a Bhutanese Embassy spokeswoman in New Delhi, said by telephone.

While the ban was enacted through the National Assembly, much of the power in Bhutan remains in the hands of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who has struggled for years to keep Bhutan secluded from the rest of the world.

There are no political parties, few newspapers, and only about 6,000 tourists a year are allowed in -- and only on carefully supervised tours.

Television was banned until 1999 and antique exports are not allowed.

But if the new law sounds draconian, it apparently won't affect many people.

Kinley Dorji, editor of Bhutan's Kuensel newspaper, said only about 1 percent of the country's 700,000 people are thought to smoke.

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