Recently, a taxi driver in Thimphu was taken aback when he was flagged down by police for having a Marlboro sticker pasted on the back of his car. He didn’t know that decorating his car with such stickers was an offence under the Tobacco Control (Amended) Act of Bhutan 2014. Likewise, there are many shopkeepers who still sell candy cigarettes to children not knowing that it is also an offence. The Tobacco Control (Amended) Act of Bhutan 2014 states that the sale or use of any product intended to promote the use of tobacco products is an offence. The candy cigarettes and the stickers of various brands of tobacco are believed to encourage people to smoke. This was one of the key messages conveyed during the Tobacco Awareness Program conducted in Kabisa in Thimphu by Khasadrapchu Youth Center on 12th May 2017 as part of its outreach sensitization program.
According to the amended act, we are not allowed to smoke outside the designated areas. Some of the non-smoking areas include commercial centers (shops, shopping complexes, supermarkets, hotels, guest houses, bars/restaurants and other public places), recreational centers (disco theques, movie theaters, video parlor, playfields and other entertainment sites), institutions (all private and government offices, Dzongs, temples, museums and other training centers), and public transports (buses, taxicabs and aircrafts). Even your private car becomes a non-smoking zone once it enters a non-smoking area. All the public places should have a designated zone for people to smoke with a clearly visible and legible public notification displayed. The smokers should be directed to these areas to smoke. However if it falls within the premises of institutions or government offices, one should not designate any area or room for smoking. The concerned person is responsible for requesting the offenders not to smoke in the non-smoking areas and if they don’t pay heed to the request, he or she should be able to ask them to leave the area or the transport. If they still continue to smoke, he or she should report the case to the authorized law enforcement officials.
To be able to import the tobacco products into Bhutan, one has to be at least 18 years old and that only one product must be imported at a time. Moreover, we cannot import the product on behalf of others. The import of tobacco products is taxed to discourage smoking. However, it is said that there isn’t much difference between the price of the tobacco products that are legally purchased and those sold in the black markets. So people say it would be safer to pay the tax and smoke without any sense of guilt and fear.
You might be wondering what penalties will you get if you are found guilty of tobacco-related offences. Well, if you are found smoking in a non-smoking area, you will be fined Nu.500 per incident. The amount may seem negligible but how many times can you really afford to pay? On the other hand, if the in-charge of the non-smoking area fails to display the no-smoking signs, he or she will be fined Nu.10,000. Then if the person fails to ensure that his customers/visitors do not smoke in the non-smoking area, he or she will be fined Nu.1000 per person. As a driver of a public transport or even a private car, one has to verify any luggage people send with him and report any suspicious baggage to the nearest law enforcement authority. The driver has to note down the addresses of the sender and the recipient as he takes the parcel from people so that if the authorities discover tobacco or controlled substances in the baggage, he would have the documentary evidence to show. If the authorities discover tobacco products in the baggage, the driver will be fined Nu.10,000 per incident or the value of the confiscated tobacco products, whichever is higher. An additional fine of Nu.10,000 and the value of the tobacco products confiscated will be imposed for each repeated offence.
Likewise, the sale or use of products that can promote tobacco use can make the guilty liable for petty misdemeanor, which means that the person can go to jail for 1-12 months. The movie scenes depicting tobacco use without cautionary messages also fall into this category of offence. The sale, cultivation, harvesting or manufacturing of tobacco or tobacco products could make you liable for misdemeanor (jail sentence: 1-3 years) and a fine of minimum national daily wage for 12-35 months. If you get caught for the second time, you are liable for 4th degree felony, which means you can be sentenced to 3-5 years in prison. So let us be always guided by these legal provisions so that we would be able to stay safe.
Source: presentations by BNCA officials.