We are fighting a losing battle against controlling tobacco, going by reports. This is after we became one the few countries, and in fact the first one to pioneer tobacco control initiatives.
Five years after a controversial law was passed and many adjustments, we have the highest student tobacco users in the region. Use of tobacco has increased from 18.8 percent in 2009 to 30.3 percent as of 2013. The small population may have something to do with the figures, yet the rate at which tobacco use is increasing is alarming.
Ironically, this is happening when we have taken the initiative. Sale of tobacco products is banned in the country, people cannot smoke in public places, and we do not manufacture tobacco. All this indicates that the regulations are not good enough, or implementing them is a problem. We have given authorities the legal teeth to clamp down on violators.
Apart from a few surprise raids, mostly based on informers reporting for whatever reasons, there is no seriousness, at all levels, to ensure that the initiatives work. The figures are alarming, the messages on the World Tobacco Day are scary and the theme, “Stop illicit trade in tobacco products” was the most relevant.
But what has happened after messages every year on May 31, World No Tobacco Day? If we have not forgotten the message the next day, we have not been able to put it into action. The answers are not actually difficult to find.
We had not been honest with ourselves when it comes to regulating tobacco. Our legislators may present the most convincing reasons for the need of strong regulation. The purpose is defeated if, after the deliberations, they smoke in the restrooms of the august hall. Our law keepers may raid some shops engaged in smuggling, but if they buy tobacco from the same shop the next day, where is the deterrent?
The media may cover the proceedings of the tobacco legislation, write about the raid and go back to the same shop to buy tobacco. The only thing that worked is in creating an underground market. Let’s be honest. How many of us all go down to Phuentsholing to get the 200 sticks of cigarette or the quota of chewing tobacco?
If were serious about the initiatives, a lot of people would have landed up paying thousands of ngultrums in fines, or have been behind bars for repeat offences. Some of us would have lost our job and face!
Meanwhile, we should not give up. And, if it is to work, the responsibility should not be left to the health ministry or the Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency alone. Still a large size of the population believes that tobacco is bad, whether it is because of religion or health. Everybody should fight together.
There is a hope from the survey. If the increase in figures is more with the young, the role of parents becomes more pertinent. If it is not working, we have to look for alternatives. And there are options, as many people suggested when the legislation was passed and didn’t work.