Some quit the habit, some cut down on consumption

Neten Dorji  | Trashigang

Many smokers in Trashigang are thanking the Covid-19 pandemic. If it allowed tobacco outlets to sell or distribute tobacco, it has also influenced many to quit the bad habit or cut down on consumption.

A civil servant recalls smoking 20 sticks a day before the borders were sealed in March. He picked up the habit in college and had since tried many times to kick the habit. “Covid-19 made smoking a very expensive habit,” he said. “It helped me quit after 14 years.”

The civil servant is not alone. Many in the town said Covid-19 and the lockdown came as an opportunity to quit smoking or chewing tobacco. A mother in Trashigang town said she cut down heavily on smoking. “From a packet a day before, it is now three sticks a day,” she said. “I think I can quit. Thanks to the lockdown!”

Another civil servant said that every stick lighted up was like burning Nu 30 or 40. With a packet costing from Nu 250 to 800 in the black market, it left a big hole in the pocket. “I have not smoked for three months, which is good progress, as I always wanted to quit,” he said.

Tashi was particular about the brand of tobacco. After not finding his brand even in the black market, he managed to quit.  “The pandemic did help me in the sense I couldn’t get my tobacco or it was too expensive,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is a mixed reaction on the government’s decision to distribute tobacco. While some said it hampered those trying to quit by tobacco available at a cheaper rate, others said it was a wise decision.

A taxi driver said it helped the low income group who are hooked to tobacco, especially chewing tobacco.

Looking for tobacco in the town, a villager said, he couldn’t concentrate on his work. “In the absence of tobacco, we don’t feel like working in the field,” he said. “I even chewed the paper cover of the chewing tobacco (Baba) during the lockdown.”

A businessman based in Trashigang said the pandemic and high prices was an opportunity to give up smoking. “The government distributing tobacco made it available and cheaper,” he said. “Everybody says you need the will to quit, but market and price factors play an equally important role.”