Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

With the new Tobacco Control Act coming into effect, those abusing tobacco will not only have choices, but tobacco will be available at a cheaper rate, killing perhaps the thriving black tobacco market.

Consumers had been complaining of not getting quality tobacco products, especially chewing tobacco, with the Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) supplying a different, poor quality, and new product, sold under the brand name Takin. Many are convinced that the black market, even when the BDFL was supplying tobacco at cheaper rates, thrived because of the difference in tobacco available.

An official from the BDFL said they have started bringing in Baba chewing tobacco and it is now available.

Although it was not officially confirmed with suppliers in Jaigaon, consumers said they were convinced that the brand Takin came into existence after the border gate was closed and when the country relaxed the tobacco rule, letting the BDFL import tobacco products last year to curb illegal smuggling activities.

Takin tobacco is also not available in Jaigaon, according to Kuensel sources in the bordering town.

A regular user in Phuentsholing, Dorji Gyeltshen said Takin tobacco is like chewing dry leaves.

While he said that no tobacco is good for health, those who cannot kick the habit had to pay through the nose or consume spurious goods even when the government took the risk of legalising sale of tobacco.

“I can’t believe there is a duplicate version for a product that has Nu 3 as maximum retail price,” he said.

A packet of 10-gram Baba sold as high as Nu 100 in the black market, while a dozen packets of takin was available at Nu 150 from the BDFL.

“Still many chose to buy from the black market keeping it alive.”

A retired civil servant in Trashigang said even with shortages and BDFL products not easily reaching eastern Bhutan, farmers were not consuming the Takin brand.

“Some paid a half-day wage to get a packet of Baba.”

From where did Takin appear?

A BDFL official said they stopped importing Takin tobacco after it received complaints from consumers. They still have some in their store.

Takin chewing tobacco is manufactured in Siliguri, India. It is manufactured and exported by Laxmishree Trading Co, according to information on the packet.

According to a Kuensel source, the brand is manufactured by a company,  Laxmishree Trading, a registered company with a registration date of December 2020. However, according to the BDFL, the Takin company’s name is DD Plasto in Siliguri.

The general manager with the duty free in Thimphu, Ugyen Thinley said BDFL imported Takin because there were complaints from consumers about Baba tobacco in the market.

“Initially, we got Baba from local suppliers. All baba suppliers were local suppliers,” he said, adding the quality was good.

“However, later, there were some problems. The suppliers were unable to provide us the quality and quantity we asked for.”

Then, BDFL ventured out for a registered company and that’s when DD Plasto was explored.

Takin supplier is a GST-registered company. It was affordable and available.

Unlike the unregistered local suppliers, DD Plasto was GST exempted, and it made the price affordable, Ugyen Thinley said. Making payments was also easier for a GST-registered company.

“The government instructed us to buy GST exempted products to make it affordable,” he said.  “We had to see both affordability and availability. Takin was better that way.”

The general manager also said they received complaints from people. However, not all the people complained, he said, explaining further there were also people who chose the Takin brand.

Meanwhile, frustrated consumers started suspecting BDFL  officials of starting the Takin in partnership with Indian businessman as it appeared only after the government let BDFL import and sell tobacco. The name which is also the common name of the country’s national animal, Takin, added to the suspicion.

However, Ugyen Thinley said they had no idea if Takin was manufactured only for Bhutanese market.

“We only had good intentions while importing it.”

At present, BDFL is importing tobacco from a supplier in Jaigaon, which is a GST-registered company.


Tobacco Control Act implementation 

Meanwhile, a standard operating procedure is being prepared for letting micro general shops, including paan shops and grocery retail license holders who will be permitted to import and sell tobacco products.  “Not everybody can import and sell tobacco,” said an official from BDFL.

BDFL will continue to be one of the dealers, while new private dealers and wholesalers will be licensed.

The economic ministry’s regional offices will facilitate additional wholesalers as per the rules in place. The ministry notification stated that this is an interim arrangement to implement the revised act immediately, while the tobacco control regulations are under revision.

Chewing tobacco causes mouth cancer