Yeshey Lhadon

Dagana received 180 packets of cigarettes, 120 packets of chewing tobacco (Baba) and 200 packets of bidis. There are about 4,000 tobacco consumers in the dzongkhag.

However, the seven gups of Khebisa, Tsangkha, Karna, Tsendagang, Drujeygang, Dorona and Tseza gewogs in Dagana refused to distribute the tobacco products.

The gups said that the tobacco consumers outnumbered the stock they received. They also wanted to help people quit the habit of consuming tobacco. Some gups consulted their tshogpas and elderly people before making the decision.

Dorona gup, Suk Raj Rai said, “Distribution of limited numbers of tobacco would create disharmony among the consumers and the gewog administration.”

The gups said the consumers have substituted tobacco consumption by chewing betel nuts and other products.

Some gups didn’t deliver the tobacco as it’s considered a sinful act. Drueygang gup, Karma Tshering said tobacco was not an essential food item. “No people would die if they stop consuming tobacco. People should adapt to critical situations,” he said.

Tseza Gup, Phurba, said he didn’t distribute tobacco because there weren’t enough for all the consumers in his gewog.

According to Karna gup, Lhawang Dorji, number of tobacco consumers have reduced in the rural areas due to inaccessibility amid the Covid-19 pandemic. He said, “People in my gewog don’t need tobacco. I have asked the chiwog tshogpas to submit the list of consumers but I haven’t got any.”

The gups are looking forward to educating and spreading awareness on the harmful impact of tobacco consumption rather than supplying it.

Some consumers from other gewogs called the Goshi gup pleading to share the tobacco products. Goshi Gup, Tandin, said. “Those chronic tobacco users are suffering but I couldn’t help them because the stock was too less even for people in my village.”  Goshi gewog received 198 packets of baba, 30 packets of cigarettes and 35 packets of bidi.

The gup said that many consumers were unhappy with their decision.

“It is more important for the local leaders to curb illegal smuggling or selling of tobacco rather than refraining from distributing what has legally been sanctioned for habitual tobacco consumers,” said gup Tandin.

A consumer from Tsendagang was disappointed when her expectations were turned down. She said, “Our gup acted on his own, he didn’t even care to consult before taking the decision.” She said she had a hard time without tobacco during the lockdown.

Tobacco users somehow managed to get some supplies. Some consumers walked for hours in search of tobacco right after the lockdown was lifted.

One paid Nu 500 to get a packet of a cigarette from her friend. She said, “I’m a chain-smoker. I feel restless and there’s no substitution for the cravings. She wished that the government would distribute tobacco to people living in rural areas as they do in the capital city.

Some farmers who are habitual tobacco chewers said they couldn’t focus on their daily chores.

While most of the tobacco consumers are hopeful that they would get their quota of tobacco, the planning officer of Dagana, Sonam Jamtsho, said that this could be the first and last consignment of tobacco for the dzongkhag.

“People must be suffering but even if their gup decides to distribute the tobacco products, there is not enough for everyone.”

Tobacco products were divided among the four gewogs of Goshi, Gesarling, Lajab Tashiding and Dagana Thromde. However, it couldn’t reach most consumers.