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Five men allegedly involved in smuggling of tobacco products after July 1 were let to go scot free. They were arrested because of the confusion in implementing our laws more than violating them. The tobacco legislation was amended urgently for a cause. Implementing it didn’t get the same urgency.

The amended tobacco Act came into effect on July 2 after receiving the Royal Assent. It is, in fact, one Bill that received such a priority and the urgency because it was seen as a problem, especially in a pandemic year. What happened after the Parliament endorsed it is a lesson for all of us, especially those responsible in following up on legislations to live up to the expectation or the vision of the amendment.

What it indicates is the gap between the legislation and the executive arms of the government. Going by the confusion surrounding the amended tobacco legislation, it is what we say the right hand not knowing what the left hand is up to. Tobacco, both from the health and religious perspective is bad. It should not be encouraged through relaxing legislation. In our context, it was the most controversial law passed in decades.

When the government or legislators risked relaxing it through amendments, those tasked to implement should have taken it as a priority. It is more than a month since the controversial Act was amended. What is lacking is clarity.

Those in the illegal business are trying to make the most of the lucrative market before the government or its agencies can decide on something or make it clear who can import, sell, from when and where.  It is a clear sign of lack of coordination or taking responsibility. There are many legislations that are amended in Parliament. What happens after the amendment is left for guessing.

The Tobacco Control  Act received attention for many reasons. It was identified as a possible risk of importing the Covid-19 virus when borders are closed and trade restricted to control the spread of the deadly virus. Tobacco, unfortunately in a Buddhist nation, became a threat to the measures put in place. It was not essentials like rice, salt or cooking oil, but a  product that Bhutanese couldn’t live without and made Bhutan vulnerable to the virus.

There will be more clarity in the following days from where and how to get, which will make tobacco available as intended and kill the underground business. But there are a lot of lessons we can learn from the tobacco story. It is about lack of coordination, efficiency or not taking responsibility.

This editorial was updated at 12:10 pm with some corrections.




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