Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 2013 has found that usage among youth has in fact risen

Survey: Bhutan has the highest prevalence of tobacco users among students, both at the regional and global level, according to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 2013, alarming officials and pushing them to call for strict enforcement of tobacco control laws.

The rising prevalence of tobacco use among the youth and the drastic decline in anti-tobacco mass media programmes was highlighted yesterday as Bhutan, claimed to be one of the earliest countries to have anti- tobacco measures in place, joined the global community to observe no tobacco day.

“The current use of smokeless tobacco and any tobacco product has increased from 9.4 percent in 2009 to 21.6 percent in 2013; and from 18.8 percent in 2009 to 30.3 percent in 2013 respectively, which is among the highest in the region as well as globally,” the survey stated.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that these statistics portrayed an overwhelming involvement of youth in tobacco consumption, posing serious public health concerns in the years to come.


“The tobacco control Act, 2010 does not allow sale of any form of tobacco products in the country, however, there’s still a thriving black market for tobacco,” lyonpo said. “I’m particularly alarmed that the prevalence of tobacco use among students in the country has increased over the years and is among the highest in the region.”

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) regional director for South-East Asia, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, has called for strict enforcement of tobacco control laws, banning sale of tobacco products in Bhutan.

Findings from all Global Youth Tobacco Surveys showed that teaching students of the dangers of tobacco use in school has also not improved over the last decade.

All surveys of 2004, 2006, 2009 and the recently launched 2013, show that communication on the ill effects of tobacco needs to be improved through appropriate channels of communication in Bhutan.

According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 2013, exposure to anti-tobacco messages on TV has significantly reduced from 86.9 percent in 2009 to 74 percent in 2013. “Exposure to anti-tobacco media messages at sporting and community events has significantly reduced from 71.9 percent in 2004 to 59.3 percent in 2013,” the survey stated.

The survey stated that pro-tobacco advertisements might be coming from international TV channels, since Bhutan has banned such advisements in the national media.

A national representative sample of 1,378 students between 13-15 years, from 25 schools participated in the survey.

The survey found that 30.3 percent, nearly one third of the students, were current users of tobacco products, and almost one in five students smoked a tobacco product.

“Fourteen percent of the students reported to be current cigarette smokers,” the survey stated. “Among ever cigarette smokers, 21.4 percent had tried their first cigarette before the age of 10 years.”

While the no tobacco day was themed, “Stop illicit trade of tobacco products,” the survey found that roughly one in 10 boys and girls had been offered free tobacco products by tobacco companies.  Almost one in five boys and one in 10 girls owned something with a tobacco product brand logo on it. 

The percent of current smokers, who bought cigarettes in stores, increased significantly from 23.7 percent in 2009 to 50.5 percent in 2013. “In spite of a ban on sale of tobacco products in the country, over half of the students had bought tobacco products from stores, the survey stated.

The survey recommended that the health ministry and all stakeholders work cohesively to minimise access to and availability to tobacco products to minors. “In the present scenario, there is a great a need to enforce the ban on sale of tobacco products.”

It’s also recommended that the country should include and put in place a smokeless tobacco control program in communities/schools and not programs limited to smoking only.

Although about 82 percent of students who currently smoked cigarettes reported to quit smoking and 83 percent had tried to, only 25.3 percent had received help or advice to quit smoking from a programme or professionals.

“There is a dire need to provide assistance to tobacco users who desire to quit and Bhutan needs to establish cost effective tobacco cessation services,” the survey stated.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh’s message on the no tobacco day said WHO continues to work with Bhutan to establish tobacco cessation facilities at all levels. “Experts from Bhutan have been trained to establish quit lines and now, it is time to establish national quit lines,” she said.

Bhutan’s efforts to control tobacco use have however resulted in a significant decrease in exposure to tobacco smoke in homes and public places. “Survey results show that, 15.3 percent of the youth surveyed were exposed to smoke in their homes and 42.8 percent were exposed to second hand smoke (SHS) in enclosed public places,” the survey stated.

More than 17 youth caught smoking in public places

Between 7.30pm and 10pm yesterday, 17 people were fined for smoking in public places when Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA) officers conducted a surprise inspection in Thimphu town as part of the World No Tobacco Day observation.

A fine of Nu 500 was slapped on the spot on each person who were caught smoking in public places. Most of them were young males and was caught smoking in bars, snooker rooms and near the taxi parking area. Six police officials assisted the eight BNCA officers.

The officers advised people and owners of bars, snooker-rooms, discotheques, karaoke bars and drayangs, to inform their customers on not smoking in open spaces. They were warned that if BNCA finds anyone smoking in a place other than the smoking room, both the smoker and the owner of the place would be fined.

Almost all the public places have a separate smoking room but no one was found smoking there during inspection, which ended at 11pm.

By Sonam Pelden

Additional reporting by

Dechen Tshomo and Younten Tshedup


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