Chhimi Dema 

The National Council (NC) passed the urgent Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill 2021 with 10 amendments.

Introducing the Bill, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the Bill was presented as an urgent bill considering the increasing tobacco smuggling cases during the pandemic, which resulted in the import of the virus.

He said that the amendment was proposed not to benefit of consumers or sellers. “The amendment is aimed to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission in the country.”

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma also introduced the Tax Bill proposing to revise the existing 100 percent sales tax on tobacco and tobacco products to zero percent. “The tax reduction was to address the availability and cost of tobacco and tobacco products.”

He said that even when Bhutan Duty Free Limited supplied the tobacco products,  people were smuggling it because of the cost. “The Bill amendment was to discourage smuggling.”

NC members proposed adding the commercial purpose in section 13, 14, 15 and 17 of the Bill while taxing and importing tobacco and tobacco products. They also recommended removing section 32 (1) and 35 (a), and subsection (c) and (e) under section 43.

The proposed sections were on enforcing quantity limitations on import, examining in check posts and carrying out search operations of tobacco and tobacco products. 

The Bill received 21 ‘Yes’ votes in NC. One member abstained and one voted against it.

NC members, however, raised concerns regarding the implications of reducing the tax on tobacco and its products.

Gasa’s NC member, Dorji Khandu, said that amending the Bill would increase the number of individuals dying from tobacco consumption. “The World Health Organisation states that tobacco kills more than eight million people each year. More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.”

He said that amending the Bill might not stop tobacco smuggling or reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. “If we cannot do both, then would amendment of the Bill be beneficial?”

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said the changes should be made in the legalisation if the situation demands. “The laws are not inscribed on the stones. We have to amend it based on the situation.”

The Bill would now go back to the National Assembly for re-deliberation.

Edited by Tashi Dema