Need to do more

Bhutan’s initiative to ban the production and sale of tobacco in the country has been much appreciated.

Last week, this appreciation came from the World Health Organisation (WHO) when it awarded the health minister with the 2017 World No-Tobacco Day Award.

It is encouraging that Bhutan’s efforts, as challenging as they may be, are recognised. Such acknowledgements should boost the determination of our law enforcers to control illegal sale of tobacco and tobacco products. But such recognition is also a reminder to us that we should not be complacent in our efforts on tobacco control. More importantly, it should make us ask if we are doing enough to control tobacco in terms of access as well as in providing cessation services to those who wish to quit.

Studies show we are not.

The National Health Survey, 2012 found that four percent of the population between 15-75 years consumes tobacco. WHO’s Global Youth Tobacco Survey found tobacco use among boys and girls almost doubling from about 29 percent in 2006 to 41 percent in 2013. Among girls, tobacco use has doubled from 12 percent to 26 percent in these seven years. Over the years, tobacco use was found to be increasing among high school students.

This trend is disturbing.

A thriving black market means tobacco use is rampant. It mocks the tobacco control law and should this trend be considered the new norm, then awards become discomforting.

But it is not just with the tobacco law. We slack in implementing our laws and policies all in all. Meat is banned during auspicious months but it is served more often at homes and restaurants than when it is not banned. Plastics were banned years ago but we continue to bring home vegetables and groceries in them. Gambling remains banned even as we stay up late into the night staking a life’s saving and breaking families.

It is worrying that we are unable to enforce laws that are meant to protect our people and the environment. Occasional raids and inspections are held often to observe international days, but if the statistics are any indicator, these symbolic acts do little in changing a society’s behaviour.

Our efforts must be collective and sustainable for society to be healthy. And when it concerns the health of our people, we must do more.

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