Despite a number of surprise inspections and the many advocacy efforts on Tobacco Control Act, tobacco and tobacco products still make their way into Bhutan.
And the trend is disturbingly on the rise with authorities increasingly making arrests and seizing contrabands every day.
In a recent surprise inspection, tobacco was found in almost all travel vehicles. And as recent as the 17th of December, on the National Day, Police caught many people in connection to tobacco smuggling.
It is a huge concern, said BNCA officials.
Supply of tobacco and tobacco products are increasing in numbers with a porous border. As of November 2012, about 32 cases on tobacco were filed and resulted in the arrest of 45 people.
A total of 68,335 sticks of cigarettes, 23,601 sticks of bidis and 410.676 kgs of other products were seized as of November, 2012. In 2011, 46,892 sticks of cigarettes, 22,272 sticks of bidis and 891.79 kgs of other tobacco and tobacco products were seized.
It is said more than 60% were convicted and not a single case of acquittal was reported as of November 2012.
After the amendment of the act, Narcotic Drug Law Enforcement Unit (NDLEU) in Thimphu arrested 21 people for smuggling of tobacco as of 26 December.
In 2011, 17 people were arrested in connection with smuggling tobacco and 28 were arrested in 2012. The figures with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) shows suspects are more into smuggling of chewing-tobacco than cigarettes.
BNCA officials said the main reason for the growing number of cases is “greed for fast money”. A packet of cigarette in the border would cost Nu 60 at the most but it is sold for Nu 150 by smugglers.
People are therefore least mindful of the law or the public health unless his/her family or relatives are affected.
The agency’s Assistant Legal Officer Sonam Tshering said it is important to abide by the law. He said, “Our intention is not to penalize but to create awareness and prevent many people from getting into problems”.
He said “we will not relax when it comes to breaking the law and Law enforcement is still in place and inspection will be done as authorized by the law”.
BNCA’s advocacy to the public include schools, local governments and even parents and so on despite limited manpower which is a challenge for BNCA.
Counseling has been given even to the prison inmates in order to make sure they do not repeat the same offence after their release.
Moreover, BNCA says there is reward for the informer that leads to seizure of the products which is given through Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) to the person. The identity of the person is kept as confidential.
BNCA says inspection will be done anytime and they will act as per the law.
The Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA) expressed cause for concerns with regards to the prevailing situation in a press conference last week. Many cases have been reported about people either carrying tobacco and tobacco products or being involved in illegal sales of the products across the country.
It is observed that many are aware of the law yet the agency at the same time acknowledged some are still not really aware of the enforced laws. There is, however, no question that some do it deliberately, and when they get caught they feign ignorance in their defense.
However, BNCA says “once convicted is convicted” and parties involved will be dealt as per the law. The BNCA would exercise tobacco control measures stringently as per the law on the smuggling of controlled drugs/tobacco.
The BNCA officials said after the amendment of the Tobacco Control Act the general public was in the misconception that law enforcement had gone down together with the penalties imposed.
The Tobacco Control Amendment Act came into effect on 9 February 2012 which says maximum permissible quantity for import of tobacco products for personal consumption is now 300 sticks of cigarettes or 400 sticks of bidis or 50 pieces of cigar or 250 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products.
Cultivation, manufacture, harvest, distributes or sale of any tobacco and tobacco products shall be considered a fourth degree felony irrespective of the quantity.