Inspection: A Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) inspection found 12 shop owners with tobacco products in Punakha on July 6.

One of the 12 was handed over to police for possessing tobacco products more than the permissible limit. The rest were fined a total of Nu 27,000 for illegal possession of tobacco products.

A person can import only 800 sticks of cigarettes, 1,200 sticks of bidis, 150 pieces of cigars and 750 grams of other tobacco per month.

A total of 175 baba (chewing tobacco) packets, 26 tulsi tobacco packets, 50 packets of cigarettes and 53 packets of bidi were seized from the 12 shops in Khuruthang, Changyul and Mitsina in Punakha during the six hour inspection.

BNCA’s deputy chief programme officer, Dorji Tshering, said that sale of tobacco products in Punakha is rampant. “There are even some shops without business licence that sell tobacco products.”

Dorji Tshering said that it is due to the authority’s weak enforcement of law that has resulted in shopkeepers selling tobacco products even as they are aware of the law.

It is believed that many law enforcers who consume tobacco products also buy the products illegally, he added. “Perhaps it is because of high demand for tobacco products that encourages sale of tobacco in the country.”

Inspection in other dzongkhags found more than 500 people smoking in public places. Except for an individual in Samtse, no one could produce a receipt to prove that the tobacco products were brought in legally.

The fine imposed to those selling tobacco products are double the value of each tobacco product inclusive of tax. For instance, if a packet of cigarette costs Nu 100, the value of the imported product inclusive of 100 percent tax is Nu 200. Therefore, the penalty amount would be Nu 400.

Dorji Tshering said that amount of fine imposed is usually between Nu 9,000 and Nu 15,000.

Most of the shops that sell tobacco products do not go to border towns to buy tobacco products. They have their own distributors, Dorji Tshering said, and added that majority of people feel that chewing and smoking tobacco is not as bad as consuming alcohol.

“However, there is a strong association between tobacco and hard drugs,”Dorji Tshering said. “To address the drugs issue in the country, it is important to first tackle the issue tobacco consumption.”

Dechen Tshomo