Thinley Namgay 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering yesterday told National Council during the question-answer session that his government was open for discussion if it’s initiative of ‘tobacco duty-free shop’ was against the law.

Gasa’s MP Dorji Khandu and Trashigang’s MP Lhatu said the selling of tobacco through the duty-free shop was against the law.

Dorji Khandu asked the prime minister to clarify how tobacco outlet initiative benefited the country so far.

“As per the law, no one is allowed to sell tobacco. We understand that the government has done this to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and to stop smuggling. However, smuggling continues,” said Dorji Khandu.

However, Lyonchhen said that this initiative was a temporary measure, and he felt that it was not illegal. “If it is not a good measure, it has to change. There is always room for discussion.”

“I received a report stating that before the duty-free shop, police used to arrest 25-26 people daily for smuggling tobacco, but it has now dropped to less than three,” said Lyonchhen, adding that during the pandemic, a packet of baba chewing tobacco  costs Nu 250 but through duty-free, one could get it for Nu 25. “It is cost-efficient for those who chew tobacco.”

Due to the growing Covid-19 cases in the neighbouring countries and greater risks at the border areas, the government started the duty-free tobacco shop to combat the pandemic.

Prime Minister said: “It’s wrong to say tobacco distribution, but it depends upon how we interpret.”