Thukten Zangpo 

The Tobacco Control Rules and Regulations 2021 (TCRR) is expected to be ready by December according to the Officiating Director General, Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA), Ugyen Tshering.

He said that the revision of TCRR was completed and was awaiting the endorsement from the BNCA board to be submitted to the Cabinet.

Ugyen Tshering said that because the board committee members are in the south working on the Covid-19 containment measures, they could not conduct the virtual board meeting.

“The Cabinet has directed to complete the TCRR before December this year. We will try to complete it as early as possible,” he added.

Economic Affairs Minister, Loknath Sharma, said there is no tobacco distributor besides Bhutan Duty-Free Limited (BDFL) and that with the new regulations, there will be a good distributor wholesale system in the country.

“We cannot allow only BDFL to be the sole distributor because the aim is to stop illegal trade and at the same time make tobacco and tobacco products available,” said Lyonpo.

As interim measures, the government allowed the micro-license holders (paan shops and grocery license holders) to import the tobacco and tobacco products apart from selling to meet the growing demand in the market besides BDFL with the new Tobacco Act.

With the limited supply of tobacco and tobacco products from BDFL, the paan shops have resorted to the black market. 

This has also led to the high cost of tobacco and tobacco products even as the government cut 100 percent sales tax on the sale of tobacco and tobacco products.

A packet of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes (10-piece) cost Nu 200 to Nu 250 today, against the maximum retail price (MRP) of Nu 95. A packet of chewing tobacco, Baba, with an MRP of Nu 3, costs between Nu 40 to Nu 50 in the market today.

Around 700 individuals come to buy the tobacco and tobacco products every day from 9am to 4pm. An individual or micro-license holder gets 400 sticks of cigarettes and two dozens of Baba after every 15 days, according to BDFL.

A shopkeeper said that he rarely went to BDFL to buy tobacco and tobacco products. He recently bought 1,000 sticks of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes from his friend at Nu 2,400, Nu 500 more than price at tobacco quota outlet.

“We do not want to import since there would be costs associated with it, including transportation and other logistics,” he added.

Another pan shop owner said a supply of 400 sticks of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes after every 15 days was not enough to meet the demand of the customers.

“Instead of 400 sticks of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes, if we get 1,000 sticks after every 15 days, we would be able to meet the market demand and lower the price,” she said, adding that she had no idea as to how to import the tobacco and tobacco products.

Ugyen Tshering said that public smoking was not allowed and monitoring would be done strictly.

He said that if someone was caught smoking in public places (any place with more than two persons), a fine of Nu 500 would be imposed per incident.

Person in-charge, he said, would be imposed Nu 1,000 per smoker if  found smoking in offices, institutions, Dratshangs and commercial centres, and Nu 10,000 if there is “no smoking” signage.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk