NA lifts ban on sale of tobacco products

There will also not be a 100% sales tax on tobacco and tobacco products

The National Assembly (NA) adopted the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021 yesterday, thus allowing the selling, distributing, buying, possessing, and transporting of tobacco and tobacco products in the country legally. 

With 33 โ€˜Yesโ€™ votes, 1 โ€˜Noโ€™ and 1 abstaining out of total 35 members present, the NA adopted the Bill.  

However, the ban on the cultivation, production and manufacturing of tobacco and tobacco products in the country is still retained.  

Meanwhile, the Bill was introduced as an Urgent Bill on June 22 to curb the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the country. As even the borders were closed to contain the COVID-19, it was reported that the illegal trading of tobacco products across the borders were thriving, resulting in the community transmission of the COVID-19 in the country. 

โ€œOur submission is to repeal the legal provisions that restrict import and sale of tobacco in the country. Rest of the provisions like restrictions on smoking in public places, institutions and offices, public transports and entertainment centers will stand as per the existing law. Our intention is to come up with more stringent regulations within the country,โ€ states the press release from the Prime Ministerโ€™s Office (PMO).

The NA yesterday also adopted the Tax Bill of Bhutan 2021 with 33 โ€˜Yesโ€ votes, 1 โ€˜Noโ€™ vote and 2 abstaining out of the 36 members present for voting.  

The Bill was introduced as a money bill to revise the sales tax on tobacco and tobacco products imported from India and sold through outlets in the country to 0% from 100% sales tax.  

It comes into force from the introduction of the Bill on June 22 and would expire on the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax Act of Bhutan 2020 that is expected to be deliberated next year.  

The two Bills will be now referred to the National Council (NC) and will be reverted with or without recommendations to the NA.  

However, if the dispute arises between the two houses on the Tobacco Bill, a joint sitting will be called-off in this session.   

During the deliberation, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said the lifting does not mean that tobacco would be available everywhere. However, it would not be available in shops near schools, lhakhangs and hospitals. 

Additionally, Lyonpo said selling tobacco to a person below 18 years of age would not be allowed as per the rules and regulations and the Ministry of the Health would come up with advocacy and awareness programs on the harmful use of tobacco and tobacco products.  

โ€œThe proposed Bill is not new as it was propagated by the NC in 2014, and it is the need to act now as it increases the risk of endangering the country with COVID-19. This time too, as we revisit the Act, we remain assured that the expansive views of the House of Review and its learned members will continue to guide us,โ€ states the PMOโ€™s press release.  

โ€œThere are numerous ways to reduce the use of tobacco products namely minimum legal age for purchase of tobacco, sale of such products are prohibited in health, educational and youth related areas, selling in pieces or small packages are disallowed or there is a dedicated Tobacco Control Cell, besides numerous tobacco cessation campaigns.โ€  

Meanwhile, records with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) show a total confiscation of over Nu 7mn worth of tobacco products as opposed to Nu 2.9mn in 2019.  

In 2021, as of June, the RBP already seized Nu 5.9mn worth of tobacco products (value in MRP, without 100% tax).

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu