A solution to end the illegal tobacco trade

Duty Free outlets to sell tobacco products

Younten Tshedup 

With increasing cases of illegal trade of tobacco products along the border, the government has formally asked the Bhutan Duty Free Limited to be the main vendor of tobacco products in the country.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during a meeting with Parliamentarians yesterday said that currently tobacco smuggling is one of the major illegal activities along the border with more than 30 individuals apprehended daily.

Lyonchhen said that in the light of the pandemic, to curb the illegal movement of people across the border (smuggling of tobacco) and to control the tobacco black market in the country, the government has devised the mechanism.

The mechanism, Lyonchhen said, would allow Bhutanese to buy the specified quantity of tobacco products for personal consumption from the Bhutan Duty Free Limited outlets by paying 100 percent tax.

He said that the outlets, which would be set up in several places (around nine) including Thimphu and Phuentsholing should be assumed as a foreign source from where individuals are allowed to buy tobacco products of specified quantity by law.

The Prime Minister explained that Bhutan has not banned the import of tobacco products in the country. Only the sale of tobacco products is banned, he added.

The Tobacco Control Act allows a person to import tobacco and tobacco products for personal consumption upon paying duties and taxes.

However, under the current situation, Lyonchhen said that with people restricted from going out of the country, theoretically, a smoker couldn’t get a packet of cigarettes in the country.    

“This is a wrong time to rehabilitate a person. This is not the time to change their habits,” he said.

Lyonchhen said, “We are not trying to be legally correct here. We want to be correct from the Covid-19-point-of-view. This is also socially correct. ”

He added that it is because of the Tobacco Control Act that is giving the government a space to bring in duty free on board and allowing them to collect the tax on the products.

The Prime Minister also said that while the mechanism has been devised as a temporary measure to address the need of the hour, the Parliamentarians have the right to amend the Act, should they feel the need in the long term.

Meanwhile, according to the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2014, an individual could bring in either 800 sticks of cigarettes or 1,200 sticks of bidis or 150 pieces of cigars or 750 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products in a month after paying tax.

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