MB Subba

The government will resort to aggressive awareness programmes on the harmful effects of tobacco to offset the impact of lifting the ban, according to Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji.

During the deliberation of the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill in the National Assembly (NA) yesterday, he said that the rules and regulations are being strengthened for sale and consumption of tobacco and tobacco products in the country.

The Bill seeks to lift the sale, distribution and import of tobacco and tobacco products for commercial purposes. The ban on cultivation, production and manufacture of tobacco remains.

The foreign minister said, “The lifting of the ban does not mean that tobacco products will be available everywhere.” He added that shops in the vicinity of institutions like schools and lhakhangs would not be allowed to sell tobacco and that sale tobacco to persons below 18 years of age will not be allowed.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government would also encourage consumers to quit tobacco by encouraging the use of products like nicotine chewing gums.

Gangzur-Minjey MP Kinga Penjor said that shopkeepers should not be allowed to display tobacco products to reduce the impact of the lifting of the ban. “We have to control the visibility of tobacco to prevent people from being tempted to consume it and government agencies should make rules and regulations accordingly,” he said.

The House also deliberated the Tax Bill 2021, which seeks to do away with the 100 percent sales tax on tobacco products. 

The proposal has been made so that tobacco is available at the cheapest rates possible and shopkeepers and consumers do not resort to smuggled products.

MPs supported the amendment of both tobacco and tax Bills. However, Drametsi-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the customs duty on tobacco should also be removed for equity in implementation of the law.

“Tobacco products imported from across the border will be tax-free. But if people import tobacco by air, then they would be paying customs duty,” he said, adding that such provisions would create discrepancies.

The deliberations in the NA on the Tobacco Bill and the Tax Bill concluded yesterday. The Bills will be put to vote today.

The Bills will be forwarded to the National Council (NC), which will send them back with or without recommendations to NA. A joint sitting will be called if disputes arise between the two Houses on the Tobacco Bill during the ongoing session.

The Bills were introduced on June 22 as an urgent Bill. Introducing the Bill in the NA, economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma pleaded that all the sins of amending the tobacco Act befell him and that all the merits befell on the king, country and the people.

The Act also prohibits buying tobacco or tobacco products in the country, but the Bill repeals the clause.

The clause in the Act, which states that possession of tobacco or tobacco products without proof of tax and duty payments or beyond the permissible quantity and type determined by Parliament is illegal, will also be repealed.

The permissible quantity for import of tobacco or tobacco products per month are 800 sticks of cigarettes or 1,200 sticks of bidis or 150 pieces of cigars or 750 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products. This will be repealed.

The Act is being amended in view of increased tobacco smuggling cases, which officials say is the main cause of Covid-19 transmission in southern dzongkhags.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk