The New Year is here, and with it has come new problems for the Bhutanese.
Starting this month the Bhutanese government has put into “serious practice” its draconian “Tobacco Control Act,” which was enacted on June 1, 2009. According to this act, any citizen in defiance can be charged with a fourth degree felony that can fetch a prison term of 5 – 9 years.
Although this should be more of a hindrance to smokers and businessmen, even citizens who don’t smoke are beginning to question the number of bans infringing on their privacy and freedom, and the misplaced emphasis on cigarettes rather than alcohol and drugs. Truth, a commenter on Tshering Tobgay's blogpost titled “Parliament passes Tobacco Control Bill” says:
It is like beating a dead horse. It is okay to make a mistake once, everyone does, but not to learn from mistake is a sign of foolishness. Simply putting people in jail and banning tobacco is not going to help anyone, jail can be used for worse criminals. The government can make money while regulating tobacco if they just tax them. Use the tax money to create awareness and educate people on tobacco. Banning tobacco is only creating more black markets and those benefits no one, except create more criminals. I understand that DPT votes on party lines, but where did the brain of National Council members go. This is simply frustrating. I wish members of both uppper and lower house develop some brains. When something does not work, it means try different things… Albert Einstein said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is what out lawmakers are.
Just yesterday BusinessBhutan tweeted “Authorities will raid drayangs & discotheques today evening to ensure the compliance to the new tobacco control rules” . Nothing unfamiliar. In 2005, Bhutanese legislators had banned sales of all tobacco products ostentatiously becoming the first nation in the world to take smoking bans way further than the rest. Bhutanese officials seemed to welcome and gloat in international media coverage for having done so. At that time authorities even burned stashes of tobacco products worth millions of Ngultrums legitimately purchased.
Kuensel reported that according to the new Act, a Bhutanese above 18 years of age is allowed to import 200 sticks of cigarettes or 30 pieces of cigars, or 150g of other tobacco products a month.
They will be charged 200 percent sales tax and customs duty for tobacco products originating from countries other than India and 100 percent on those from India.
When the items are declared at Customs, the person will be issued a receipt reflecting the details of his import and his identity. The receipt will be valid for a month from date of issue and the person will have to have the receipt of him at the time of smoking – in case he is asked by the law to produce validity.
Which leaves you wondering about the logistics of how this can be implemented. The ban on smoking and cigarette sales that arose in 2005 became largely ineffective, for reasons that it was an ill-thought and impractical process, which in turn became something of an embarrassment in the end rather than something to be proud of when people were still found puffing away to glory.
And how popular is this Act? While it does have health benefits, voices on online forums point out the fallacy of such a law.
Under the thread “Tobacco and Receipts” on Bhutantimes.com, an online forum where Bhutanese give vent to their feelings on issues mostly under pseudonyms, this was the discussion:
Reminds me of an old Woody Allen film “Bannanas” in which a freedom fighter who becomes a dictator as soon as he gets power decides to promote cleanliness. So he says all his people must change their underwear regularly. But how is the government going to check that this new law is followed, he is asked. In order for the government to monitor this, everyone must wear their underwear over their trousers.
Raksha dared the govt:
I challenge the government on how they are going to implement such a law without 101 complications at best.
While Number_Uno said:
we are a nation being repeatedly treated like a classroom.
But Drupkinley thought of more dire consequences:
I think it will be easier for the Narcotics Board to issue an ID card for the smokers with receipt No. on it. Otherwise a situation may arise between a smoker and the inspector, which could escalate into a gruesome ending, where the offender may have to go to jail not because of a PUFF but murder.
And Migyel questioned the reasoning for this law:
Today, alcohol kills more people in Bhutan than any other things followed by reckless driving. Could government not focus on the alcohol control rather than tobacco?
But where this is a will there is a way. Blankslate said:
Create a black-market and give gangs a way to finance themselves… Nice going government!
Although black markets always exist for banned products, what need to create an extreme one for Tobacco products?
yes, a blackmarket not just for cigarettes but also for revenue and custom receipt books! The policeman on the street has no way of distinguishing fake receipts from genuine ones if the receipt is printed in the same press with the same quality as the original. This solution will `validate` all the illegal cigarettes that are definitely going to enter the country now that it has made it dearer….the hawala method of funds transfer which by nature is a paperless, identity-less system of payments…can be used, with the help of faceless middlemen, to deliver payments and pick up cigarettes at a moment`s notice, along with a fake receipt. Who knows, with the integrity of our customs officials suspicious at best, the receipts may even be originals!
wrote someone named Economist.
In the end Chhoeki had a simple suggestion which might have been the way to go:
What the Government really needs to do is:
1. prohibit smoking in public designated areas and ACTUALLY enforce this rule.
2. place high tax on import/sale of tobacco products rather than make it illegal to sell them. This would increase the price of tobacco products, and I am certain that the demand would actually go down. The government would also be able to generate additional revenue.