PM says BNCA and RBP must monitor and penalize smokers who smoke in public places

With an increasing number of people smoking tobacco and use of tobacco products in public spaces, the government has directed the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) to penalize them accordingly, and not to leave them without any action.

During the 47th Meet-The-Press, conducted virtually, Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering said the government will talk with BNCA, and Royal Bhutan Police is fully on board, and the general public must inform the agencies if anyone is found smoking in public places, otherwise, ignoring means “we are also failing.”

“All law enforcement agencies are to act together, and we all must educate that smoking tobacco and tobacco products are bad for health. In the event, that one has to smoke, please smoke for yourself and don’t drag everybody into smoking,” said the Prime Minister.

PM said the current issue is that smoking or the use of tobacco products in public places, versus going back to the old Tobacco Control Act, where trading is banned.

According to PM, those who are smoking out openly are probably doing it with the wrong notion that with the Act being amended they are allowed to smoke in public places.

PM reiterated that the Amendment of the Tobacco Control Act only allows the trading of tobacco. In the past, smokers were only allowed to import tobacco for personal consumption. Smoking was also allowed in designated places, which still stands as the same presently.

The Act is amended but that does not allow smokers to smoke in public places and the regulations stand for the same. For now, the government has no say on the Amendment of the Tobacco Control Act and banning tobacco trading in the country.

The previous Act did not serve its purpose, rather it has given room to some other legal and social issues where more than 2,000 individuals were imprisoned because of the Tobacco Act, said the Prime Minister.

The government is equally concerned about the health hazards of tobacco and tobacco products. Consumption of tobacco is the main leading cause of cancer and non-communicable diseases worldwide.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful to both adults and children, says the US CDC.

Despite the great harmful effect of secondhand smoke, there has been an increasing number of smokers smoking in public places after the legalization of the buying and selling of tobacco and tobacco products in the country.

An official from Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) said despite the continued advocacy and sensitization programs conducted by BNCA, people are still found smoking in public places, so, therefore, BNCA along with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) will be strictly monitoring and conducting ad-hoc inspections in public areas, and if anyone is found smoking in the public areas, they will be penalized on the spot.

The official said in the past, buying and selling tobacco and tobacco products was completely banned. However, importing tobacco and tobacco products was allowed only to a certain prescribed quantity. And only shops licensed to sell tobacco and tobacco products were allowed to sell them.

There is a lot of misconception among the public that after legalizing the buying and selling of tobacco and tobacco products, the public thinks that they can smoke in public places, said the official.

“We rarely find people smoking in public places in the past. Now we are receiving a number of complaints that people are smoking in public places.  There has been an increase in trend among the smokers smoking freely in public places. Smokers do not realize that secondhand smokers will be affected, and easy access to tobacco and tobacco products can have an evil influence on tobacco to the youths,” said the official.

BNCA will impose a fine Nu 1,000 per incident of failing to display ‘No Smoking’ signs, a fine of Nu 500 per incident of smoking in a non-smoking area, and a fine of Nu 1,000 payable by a person in charge (per person smoking in no-smoking area of the premise). For example, the owner of the bar, restaurant, or any other private place will be liable for a penalty of Nu 1,000 for each smoker for not stopping them.

No person should be smoking in commercial centers, recreational centers, public gatherings, institutions, public transportation, public spaces, inside private vehicles and Dratshangs, shaydras and lhakhangs.

The official also shared the challenges, after the Amendment of the Act, people ask for a public smoking place or some kind of facility for smokers in order to protect the health of non-smokers.

According to US CDC, since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, 2.5 million adults who do not smoke have died from health problems caused by secondhand smoke exposure. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful to both adults and children.

People who do not smoke, but are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25–30 percent. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of stroke by 20 – 30 percent. Exposure to secondhand smoke interferes with the normal functioning of the heart, blood, and vascular systems in ways that increase the risk of having a heart attack.

People who already have heart disease are especially at a high risk of suffering the harmful effects of breathing secondhand smoke and should take special precautions to avoid even brief exposures.

As per the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (13–15-year students) conducted in 2020, tobacco use remains high in Bhutan, and the youth start using tobacco at a very young age. The susceptibility of youth to tobacco use continues to remain a serious concern in Bhutan. Findings from these surveys reveal that more than one out of five students (22.2 percent) currently use tobacco products (2019). The prevalence of current cigarette smoking was 14.7 percent and 12.5 percent of students currently consume smokeless tobacco products.

Meanwhile, BNCA requests offices to either declare their entire premises as a Non-Smoking area or designate a Smoking Room with a closable door, exhaust fan for ventilation, no leakage of secondhand tobacco smoke to adjacent rooms, ashtrays/bins filled with sand or other material for the disposal of a cigarette butt, fire extinguisher and health warnings.

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