Between January and March this year, Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) collected Nu 64,948 as fines, during ad hoc inspections in Thimphu alone.

From seven inspections within three months, BNCA confiscated a total of about 1,236 sticks of cigarettes and 394 packets of chewing tobacco-weighing 3.94kgs. 22 shops and three individuals were fined for illegal possession and public smoking.

Deputy chief programme officer, Chhimi Dorji said, that the main intention of conducting inspection is not to penalise or put people behind bars but to control the consumption of tobacco. “Often it becomes difficult to monitor the use of drugs or tobacco. While we are inspecting, we also go on advocating ill effects and hand them pamphlets.”

Programmes are conducted in a way that is easier for people to know about the laws and ill effects of tobacco, he said.

“Inspections are done based on complaints of people smoking in public. It is also conducted jointly with other stakeholders apart from ad hoc and routine inspections,” he said.

According to the Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2014 (amended), no person shall smoke outside the designated smoking areas in public places including public transportation.

He said that the rights of the smokers end the moment their action affect other’s health.

“Otherwise illicit trade of tobacco and tobacco products will undermine the control of tobacco consumption which may foster organised crime.”

He said that today, because of technology, even surprise inspections rarely work and that staff shortage remains a challenge in conducting effective inspection.

One of the major joint inspections conducted so far happened was in June last year where BNCA collected Nu 391,780.

BNCA  also coordinates joint inspection with stakeholders such as Royal Bhutan Police, departments of trade, revenue and customs, and thromde among others.

Chhimi Dorji said that people claiming to be unaware of the law associated with tobacco wouldn’t be accepted. “Tobacco is a social issue. It is not just the problem of BNCA. Unless we have the support from society and individuals, controlling tobacco will remain a challenge.”

The inspection was carried out in Hongtsho, Kabesa, Semtokha, Olakha, Changzamtok and in the core town areas.

Rinchen Zangmo