There are around 16 tobacco sub-outlets in Thimphu and since 24 December till date, they have sold tobacco products worth around Nu 1 million. During the first lockdown, in 17 days, they sold tobacco worth around Nu 1.5 mn.
They refill the stock as and when asked by the outlets which is almost everyday.
It was learnt that there is no hindrance in the import of tobacco products but it takes time to reach Thimphu due to lockdown and COVID_19 protocols in transshipment.
Compared to the first lockdown, Bhutan Duty Free feel that their services are smoother and enhanced with experience. This lockdown, they are distributing through sub-outlets or shops in zones.
Dechen Dema, branch Manager of Bhutan Duty Free said that they do get demands from the consumer; however, they are not able to fulfill all the demands due to the lockdown. “We also do not get the required amount of tobacco products from the supply end and therefore, we supply whatever we have in stock. When there is no option, people take whatever is there in stock,” she added.
There is sometimes shortage of particular brands which are in high demand from people, otherwise, they have Baba tobacco and few cigarette brands in stock.
She said that people demand for individual delivery which is not allowed. “We supply to all the zones, however, it’s hard for us to find a shop that would be willing to keep the products as they do not get profit selling it,” she added.
No sub-outlets are allowed to take any profit while selling any kind of tobacco products as it is not a business. Distribution is done as a part of social service, she added.
She said that they have received complaints from customers saying that the outlets are not willing to sell the products in packets and they were asked to take the whole bundle at once and few complained higher prices being charged.
They had to close few outlets with such complaints, she said, adding that having zero profit could be one factor whereby they do not want to waste their time opening up the bundles and selling it in packets.
“We do not sell Baba tobacco in single pieces as it causes inconvenience while punching the number in the system and we do not have enough staff to count and re-pack to send it to the sub-outlets.”
On the other hand, they had to close two sub-outlets on the request of the outlets. They did not want to sell the products because some customers had forcefully got into their kitchen and checked for cigarettes thinking they would have hidden them. That happened, when the shopkeepers said they are out of stock.
They are being harassed by people in many ways and thereby they urge people to be happy with what they are getting at this point of time, she said, adding that the smokers can take other alternatives rather than complaining about not getting what they demand for.
They supply the products to other Dzongkhags as per the requisition made by respective Dzongkhags, however, not every Dzongkhags has made a requisition. She said that some Dzongkhags have not taken even once and this can be because there is no demand from the public at all or it is not convenient to take from them and distribute.
Few desuups on the ground shared that people holding evening zoning card complain of not getting any tobacco items most of the time because by the time their shopping time begins, the products would run out of stock.
One of the tobacco sub-outlets said that they have not come across any issue so far and whatever quantity they are getting from duty free are getting sold out everyday, however, the least demanded cigarettes remain. Whenever they run out of stock they call and duty free delivers the product to them, he added.
Tshering, a chain smoker said that he smokes Classic cigarette which he does not get most of the time from his zone, however, he smokes other alternative cigarettes to satisfy his smoking cravings. “I have no complaint because government is doing their best and I can adjust with what I get, and I thank them for making it available at least,” he added.
Similarly, most of the people who are dependent on tobacco products are satisfied with their services.
Meanwhile, there is not much of an issue with the supply of doma and alcohol in every zone. Compared to the first lockdown, people have shared that the availability of those products are satisfying and they thanked the government for its efforts.
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