After the ban, the bill
7 May, 2009 – At hriving black market has burnt an embarrassing hole in the existing policy to ban the sale of tobacco products. But the government is not changing direction in its efforts to discourage Bhutanese from picking up the habit.
Last month, the cabinet submitted the draft Tobacco Control Bill to the National Assembly that is specifically aimed at stubbing out illegal sale of tobacco products.
The bill, if approved by the Assembly, will give authorities the legal teeth to come down hard on smugglers. It also addresses issues of exposure to tobacco smoke, depiction of tobacco use in domestic productions, movies and cultural shows, and on duties for imported tobacco.
This is good, considering that the nationwide ban, which came into effect on December 17, 2004, reflected the wishes of the people expressed through elected representatives.
But one pressing question is whether the ban, now in its fifth year, has actually reduced smoking or chewing tobacco among the Bhutanese? Or have more people have taken to it instead?
The answer to these questions might help to find more effective ways of discouraging smoking rather than an outright ban, which has so far proven difficult to implement.
The ban was based on the premise that fewer people would pick up the habit if the product were not available. That failed with the growth of a thriving black market, which reflects more on how we do business across the border and the ease with which things can get smuggled in.
The other question is whether the government is putting the same amount of effort to curb other vices, such as alcoholism, which is tearing families apart and is also the number one killer in the country.
And what about illegal prescription drugs, smuggled in from across the border, that has caught in its grip a countless number of our youth, the future?
Making the tobacco ban work is important, but so are these other issues that are causing much more harm than we care to admit.
Black market is a way of getting around government controls