13 people penalised in four hours

BNCA: The surprise inspection the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA) conducts is exposing not only violators of the Tobacco Control Act, but also loopholes in the Act.

On Friday when officials fined violators for smoking in public area and fined bar and karaoke owners, property owners engaged in a heated argument with owners reasoning that it was not their duty to supervise the premises of their property for smokers.

In four hours on Friday, five bars and karaoke owners were slapped a fine of Nu 10,000 each. Eight individuals were also fined Nu 500 for smoking in public area.

A drayang operator in Thimphu said that apart for imposing the fines to the individuals who were found smoking in the public area, penalizing the owners of the restaurant and bars were “illogical”.

He said that imposing penalties on the owners is like penalizing an individual whose house has been robbed for not guarding his house. “We hardly make a few thousands from the business in a month and if such penalties are imposed more than twice in a month, how are we supposed to survive in a place like Thimphu,” he said.

Another bar owner said that while they are busy attending to their customers inside, it is difficult to monitor what goes on outside their bar, “What are we supposed to do? Do business inside or guard outside and see if anyone is smoking around?”  asked another bar owner. “This rule doesn’t make sense.”

All the bars and drayangs inspected on Saturday had designated smoking area. “If we are fined for letting people smoke in the bar and not in designated areas, we should be penalized,” said an owner.

According to the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2014, the person-in-charge of a hotel, guesthouse, restaurant, among others, shall arrange smoking rooms as appropriate. Notices indicating smoking is prohibited in all the other areas should also be displayed.

The Act states that the person-in-charge who find a person smoking in places other than the designated area shall request the offender to refrain from smoking.

If the person continues to smoke, the person-in-charge shall demand the offender to leave the place or transport, otherwise report to an authorized officer or law enforcement personnel.

BNCA’s deputy chief programme officer, Dorji Tshering, said that the person-in-charge is responsible for ensuring that no individual shall smoke in places other than the designated smoking room near their premises.

Dorji Tshering said during the inspection on Saturday it was also found that most of the young people were found smoking in the smoking room. “We couldn’t impose the penalties to them as this inspection was to see those who were smoking in the unauthorised areas only,” he said.

However, Dorji Tshering said that starting from the next inspection, individuals would be checked on legal grounds for smoking.  “Smokers will be asked to produce the receipt for the tobacco they bought,” he said. “This is mainly to see if people are smoking legally or not. Most of the people seen and caught smoking were very young.”

The permissible quantity for import of tobacco or tobacco products is 800 sticks of cigarettes or 1200 sticks of bidis or 150 pieces of cigars or 750 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products per month according to the Tobacco Control Act.

According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2013, of 1,378 students between 13-15 years from 25 schools taken as representative sample, 30.3 percent of the students were current users of tobacco products, and almost one in five students smoked a tobacco product.

“Fourteen percent of the students reported to be current cigarette smokers,” the survey stated. “Among every cigarette smokers, 21.4 percent had tried their first cigarette before the age of 10 years.”

Dorji Tshering said that the inspection on Friday was mainly carried out in recreation centres like drayangs, karaoke and discotheques in the town and Olakha area. Similar surprise inspection will be carried in other dzongkhags as well to sensitize the public on the tobacco rules and regulations, he said.

So far, five such inspections have been conducted, four in Thimphu and one in Paro by BNCA in partnership with the Royal Bhutan Police, Department of Trade, and Department of Revenue and Customs.

A total of Nu 209,500 was collected as fines in the month of December from the two dzongkhags.

Younten Tshedup