Maybe he just really likes the smell of the ink?
October 5, 2010 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Why would a customs agent smell the pages of a book?

My parents were recently traveling out of Bogota, Colombia. At the airport, their luggage was searched and the agents had them remove all of their books, including unwrapping one that was sealed by the bookstore in plastic. Then they smelled the pages of every book.

I'm assuming they were checking for drug smuggling (maybe to see if the books were printed on some type of leaf?), but I would like to know definitively what was the deal.
posted by lhall to Grab Bag (9 answers total)
For clarification, was this US Customs? Were they uniformly new or old looking books?
posted by Blasdelb at 11:47 AM on October 5, 2010

I'm pretty sure this happened while still in Colombia, but I'll check with my parents. They were new books -- I think travel guides and a Spanish-language Harry Potter (the one with the wrapping).
posted by lhall at 11:56 AM on October 5, 2010

They are very thorough in searching your bags when leaving Colombia. They even smelled the coffee that we had just purchased in the duty free. I believe we were searched three separate times on our way out.
posted by chelseagirl at 11:59 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Earlier this year a Colombian cocaine smuggling operation was discovered, in which the drug was hidden in nuns' prayer books. That tactic could take on many different forms, so now they're probably checking every book, in typical reactionary security theater fashion.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:00 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Winsome Parker Lewis, that makes a lot of sense. I'm personally still bitter because this weekend at the airport in Chicago, my toothpaste was confiscated for being 4.7 ounces instead of 3.5.
posted by lhall at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2010

In the early days of the liquid ban, my banana was confiscated in Chicago because they said it could be considered a gel.
posted by defreckled at 7:15 PM on October 5, 2010

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is governed by Title 19 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

19 CFR Section 102.1, paragraph (b): Direct physical identification. "Direct physical identification" means identification by visual or other organoleptic examination.

Yeah, that includes sense of smell. However, section 102 covers Rules of Origin, so I doubt that one can readily identify where something comes from by smell. So, yes, most likely the guy was checking for drugs. Dog noses are preferable, but if the CBP officer knows what contraband smells like, he's just as qualified to check.
posted by holterbarbour at 7:34 PM on October 5, 2010

I recently passed through the Bogota airport.

The security there is UNREAL.

I'm fairly sure that it's largely for show, and that the guards and officials take a lot of liberties to psych people out and make them think this is SRS BSNS.

When I passed through, they made a huge stink about a 2/3 empty bottle of sunscreen that was well within the allowable limits for hand luggage. In the end I just told them, "jeez, throw it out already if it's such a huge deal; it's a fricking teaspoon of sunscreen..."
posted by Sara C. at 7:53 PM on October 5, 2010

You ever smell an old paperback? It's intoxicating. I can't pick up an old book without having a good whiff; second hand bookstores (especially Book and Comic Exchange in Notting Hill and its horrifyingly damp "bargain basement") are like a drug to me.

If I was in a position where I regularly saw other people's books, I'd smell them all the time too.
posted by Ted Maul at 2:14 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

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