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Bhutan becomes first nation to ban tobacco sales
Updated: 2004-11-15 20:13

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan will become the first country in the world to ban tobacco sales nationwide starting in a month, official media reported.

The country's trade and industry ministry issued a notification giving shops, hotels, restaurants and bars until December 17 to dispose of tobacco stocks, the kuenselonline.com Website said on Monday.

The notice extends to the capital Thimphu a ban on tobacco sales that was enforced in most of the country since summer.

Bhutan's national assembly voted in July to ban tobacco sales nationwide and levy a 100 percent tax on any tobacco products brought into the country for personal consumption.

Cities such as New York ban smoking in public places and several countries including India ban tobacco advertising.

Bhutan, a Mahayana Bhuddist nation of 734,000 nestled between India and China, proclaims a development goal of ''gross national hapiness''. It is the first nation to ban tobacco sales outright, according to the website of the anti-smoking group, Action on Smoking and Health.

An Indian cigarette maker said the ban on tobacco sales was too severe and that Indian cigarette companies would see lower sales as most of Bhutan's trade is with its southern neighbor.

"The question is one of personal choice,'' said J.P. Khetan, managing director of one of India's largest cigarette makers GTC. ''It is not fair. Whether it be of tobacco or something else. If I want to smoke I should be allowed to smoke. The government can take whatever safeguards need to be taken such as on health."

Anyone caught selling tobacco in Bhutan after the December deadline faces a 225 dollar fine, a hefty sum in a country where the poverty line is set at about an income of 16 dollars a month.

Kuenselonline said community leaders and businesses were cooperating to enforce the measure.

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