The urgency with which the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2021 had been passed by the National Assembly seems to be somehow missing when it comes to its implementation.
The Tobacco Act, which now allows the sale, distribution, buying, possessing, and transportation of tobacco products in the country, was revised in the summer session as an urgent Bill in view of the continued smuggling of tobacco products through the porous borders in the south. This was identified as one of the main reasons for the spread of the Covid-19 in the country.
However, even after the new Tobacco Act came into effect from July 2, the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority has not come out with the revised tobacco rules and regulations. It has become imperative, therefore, to expedite the implementation process if the works and efforts that have been put in are to serve their desired purpose.
The reality for now is that the coronavirus is still around and the danger is far from over. The need to be cautious is still there with the risks of the virus still present in the community. Unfortunately, we are also seeing the virus’ evolution into highly infectious variants, which are presently ravaging the world.
Another reality for now is there is still a thriving black market of tobacco products. In Thimphu for example, there are many shops that still sell tobacco products. They get their supplies either from the black market dealers or from the Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL)’s outlet, which remains the only official point for all tobacco related products in the country for now.
If there is a thriving black market of tobacco products today, it must also be attributed to the BDBL. It’s not just genuine users of tobacco products that depend on the BDBL for their supplies, many shops that sell these products, later at exorbitant prices, also depend on the BDBL for their supplies. How many of those that buy tobacco products from the BDBL are genuine users of tobacco products?
The practice of many non-smokers getting and collecting tobacco products from the BDBL outlet and selling them in the black market at a higher price is also rampant and not new. The task of the BDBL is, therefore, not just to ration the tobacco products. As the outlet already had raised concern over the limited supply of tobacco products, it must also ensure that these products go to genuine users, many of whom have no choices rather than to resort to the black market.
While it is expected that the black market of tobacco products would fade once people start importing tobacco products and there are enough legal suppliers in the market, the important thing for now is that we have no time to wait and take the risk.