Bhutan - tobacco control bill endorsed..

December 7, 2009 - THIMPHU: Under the watchful gaze of the giant Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpoche thongdroel, the National Assembly yesterday endorsed the Tobacco Control Bill of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

The endorsing of the bill, with amendments, assumed a special significance at the hall, considering that Zhabdrung endorsed the first tobacco control in the 17th century. Even before that, Guru Rinpoche, in his teachings, said that tobacco grew from the blood of a demoness, personified as a menstruating woman, who had wished for an intoxicant that would obstruct spiritual practice.

Friday, the 21st century democratic Bhutan’s members of parliament, respecting individual rights, didn’t completely ban smoking or chewing tobacco, but ensured that tobacco is scarce, non-users are protected and violators penalised accordingly.

No Bhutanese can sell or even buy tobacco, says the bill. Any Bhutanese “selling or buying tobacco” in any form will be fined as specified by the yet to be established tobacco control board from time to time and serve imprisonment term equivalent to the fine imposed if unable to pay it.

Non-smokers will be protected by law from inhaling second hand smoke. This will be done by strictly banning smoking in public places, like commercial and recreation centres, institutions, public gatherings/spaces and public transportation. A smoker violating the rule will be fined from time to time or, failing to pay the fine, detained. A person responsible for letting someone smoke in a public place will also be penalised.

However, respecting individual rights, the tobacco board will draft rules and regulations and specify a permissible limit of tobacco to be imported. The word ‘quota’ will be removed from the bill after members debated that, by providing quota, every smoker will import, which was as good as lifting the ban.

Bhutanese found smuggling tobacco shall be guilty of smuggling and shall be penalised as per the penal code. Film makers, who use scenes depicting tobacco use, including smoking, for domestic production of video, movies and cultural shows would be booked for petty misdemeanour and penalised as per the penal code, says the bill.

The Bill, however, will be sent to the National Council, which earlier amended it and lifted the ban on the sale of tobacco and tobacco products. If the council does not agree with the Assembly’s amendments, the bill will be put to the joint legislative committee of the two houses. A joint sitting would be needed to pass the bill, if the joint committee fails to resolve differences.

The health minister, Lyonpo Zanglay Dukpa, said that the bill was drafted after consultation with many relevant agencies. “The tobacco legislation should be made practical, user-friendly. It should be strict to deter people from getting into the illegal business, while not being too harsh to infringe on rights,” said the minister. He said that tobacco-related diseases are fast picking up and are a pressure on the health system.

Reference: Tobacco control bill endorsed,, 12/6/2009.

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