02/02/2011, 00.00
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Buddhist monk, first casualty in anti-smoke law, could get five years in prison

Police found 72 undeclared packets of chewing tobacco in his possession. The anti-smoking law is designed to limit tobacco consumption and smuggling. It gives police the power to enter people’s homes at will. Smoking and using tobacco products is contrary to Mahayana Buddhism, the kingdom’s official religion.
Timphu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Buddhist monk could get five years in prison for consuming and smuggling contraband tobacco. Police caught him with 72 packets of chewing tobacco, which he had not declared at customs, and promptly arrested him on smuggling charges. In the small Himalayan kingdom, Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion, and smoking is deemed bad for one’s karma.

The 24-year-old monk is the first casualty of the country’s new stringent anti-smoking law, which allows police to enter people’s homes with trained dogs to find tobacco products.

The government aims at making Bhutan the first smoke-free nation in the world. Anyone caught in possession of tobacco products is liable of up to five years in prison.

Although smoking in private is not against the law, smokers are restricted to 150 grams of legally imported tobacco products. They must however provide a customs receipt when challenged by police.

The new law replaces one adopted in 2005. The latter banned the sale of tobacco on Bhutanese territory but was thwarted by a thriving smuggling business with neighbouring India.

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