Bhutan is the world’s first non-smoking nation. Since late in 2005 it has been illegal to smoke in public or sell tobacco. Cigarettes can be imported into the country with a very heavy tax. During my visit there I only saw one person smoking.
However, chewing doma is a deeply embedded tradition in Bhutanese society. It is used by men and women of all ages, although apparently its use is declining in the younger generation. It is said that chewing it is a mild stimulant producing a warming sensation and slightly heightened alertness.
Doma is composed of the areca nut (left) wrapped in betel leaves and normally mixed with lime (right).
Besides increasing the risk of many diseases, doma forms a red juice which turns the teeth and lips red. It is common to see red stains on the sidewalks of Bhutanese villages and “no spitting” signs inside buildings. Nevertheless, it constitutes an important and popular cultural activity in many Asian and oceanic countries. A gift of doma is very common among friends and is often used in courtship.
Below is a brief slide show of doma for sale at the Timphu Weekend Market.