Stop digging!

Listen...don't dig

Denis Healey, a British politician, once famously said: “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Digging. That’s what the government is doing by issuing guidelines to relax the implementation of the controversial Tobacco Control Act. According to the guidelines:

Any Bhutanese bringing in tobacco products, more than the permissible quantity for personal consumption through designated port of entry, will not be directly charged for smuggling, but would be levied a 200 percent tax.

The excess quantity would be seized, the citizenship identity card number noted, so that the offender would be charged on the second attempt to bring in more than the prescribed limit.

Why do the guidelines amount to “digging”? There are several important reasons:

First, the government does not have the authority to grant exceptions to the Tobacco Control Act. According to the Act, any person found selling or buying tobacco products “… shall be punishable with misdemeanor if the source of supply is revealed. If the accused fails to disclose the source of supply, he or she shall be liable for the offence of smuggling in addition to the offence of misdemeanor.”

The law is straightforward. And the government must not undermine it. Doing so, like granting exceptions to first time offenders – letting them off with a small fine – could amount to interfering in the judicial process.

Second, why did the police draft these guidelines? That’s not their job. It’s the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency’s job to make rules for the implementation for the effective implementation of the Tobacco Control Act. And why did the cabinet approve the guidelines? That’s not their job either. Their job is to ensure that the rules made by the BNCA are in line with the provisions of the Tobacco Control Act.

And third, what happens to the 27-odd people already under detention. Some of them are being tried. And some, as we know, have already been incarcerated.

Through the guidelines, the government has now admitted that possessing illegal tobacco for personal consumption is a trivial offense, one that should carry a fine of only 200% of the cost of the tobacco. If so, amend the Tobacco Control Act.

The 7th Session of the Parliament has just begun. So if the government proposes an “urgent bill” to amend the Act, there’s enough time to discuss and amend the Act in this session itself. Otherwise, at least begin the process in this session. In the meantime, get BNCA to take another look at their rules. And stop digging.


Facebook Comments:


  1. While we appreciate the relaxation of the draconian law, we don’t welcome the Police Chief coming up with such an initiative.

    What’s wrong with the government? Why do they screw up the procedures all the time?

  2. Why is the Tobacco Act itself not being revised? The Act can be start of serious discord within our society. The fire is best put out when small. It could lead to demonstrations, dissidents, etc.

    One has to understand that while few individuals may have been sentenced, in actual there would be many other who would be affected – like their family members. In most cases, these individuals could be bread earners for the family.

    When sale of tobacco and public smoking were banned in the country, it was welcomed because besides obvious basic benefits, it was in itself a massive public health campaign. When our children begin to grow with mentality that tobacco is not allowed – it is worth millions of dollars worth of campaign. But with the recent change in act and draconian nature of it, it has become counter effective. The Act is harassing the very people it was supposed to benefit. Only the system (govt. revenue system) may gain – but the system was devised to affect the people in better way. And simply, all can see, it does not.

    We are not sure why our parliamentarians cannot see that? I was proud to have been part of the first elections, now I am not so sure. In fact, I am becoming more ashamed as the act drags on, of having been ever part of the those people who chose to enact. It was noble initiative, it is turning otherwise.

    It is wrong, I think all understand. Now, those in power and in session should have the grace to accept it and change it. They should benefit the people who have chosen them.

  3. On addition to above. The Act and the approach in general (inclduing the draft alcohol act) is deprving people of right to choose – which our constitution allows. The government and legislation should make environment where people have right to choose. They should provide education of why one cannot – but they should not decree what a citizen can or not (even through policies or prohibitive taxation – which becomes itself a command).

    I am not a smoker and do not drink at all. But I am educated enough to understand not only the (well advertised) adverse effects of them but also BENEFITS. There are benefits that are not as much discussed. There are immense psychological benefits. There would be hundreds who would claim how they are released from stress (creating less discord at home or in office!) with smoking. It is but one example. There are other benefits.

    Instead of such dictations/ sanctions, our legislations and government should take measures where our people would not be compeled to rely on such substances to relieve them. Family education, counseling opportunities for couples, parents, teenagers, etc. Because smoking or drinking is just a symptoms of deeper disease – it can manifest in other things/ aspects of life. Lets deal with the cause,not the symptoms.

    I hope the MPs have vision enough to differentiate between the cause and symptoms.

  4. I am of an opinion that a leader should never be shamed to admit the mistakes and take measures to amend.

    I never thouht our government will be so adamant on admitting the mistakes in TCA what to talk of initiating a process to amend it.

    Here we have a classic example: when the power is given to few politicians how fast it hits their head and brings out their ego. Dear parliamentarians, this is only third year of our country as a democracy and you have proved that your egos are bigger than your concern for the common men.

    We are already missing the old times. We Dukpas’ do not ask for getting into economic or industrial race with rest of world (which too will benefit only few polibusitians) nor we strive to have all the luxories of modernity, We are simple people believing in simplicity and we will appreciate if you leaders could let us have our GNH back…


  5. OL, I have a request, can you please raise the issue of why the army constable was punished in the Paro case. In my opinion, he was merely following the offers orders, and well know in army they strictly follow the chain of command. In reality the officer should be punished more , because he misused his authority. He should be stripped off his rank and terminated without any benefits. He also should serve six years and the constable should be free. On top of that the constable should be allowed to sue him for damaging his career and misusing him.

  6. Truth_is_Buddha says

    The laws of the land cannot be subordinate to any guidelines or rules framed for its implementation. If tough decisions are to be taken, as per law, then it should prevail. Like the OL suggests, it is not late to amend the TCA, if the Parliament so intends. We hope the lawmakers will act fast to revise the TCA. Good luck!

  7. King Kong says

    More than anything,the act was supposed to send a message to the world, yes there exists a tiny Himalayan Kingdom called Bhutan.

    Now the only reason why Police Chief could have had a change of heart is most of his men in uniform cannot give up chewing tobacco and he could run out of men on duty if all of them were to be behind bars.

    Implementation of an act by a person who himself indulges in it will always find a silent opposition.

  8. Those people at the top who lack gray matter were always drowning in a pool of shit, it might have been better off, if they had their mouth Shut from the very beginning?? .

  9. well i see the Chief of Police trying to help out the innocent victims… well guys… the tobaccco Rules and Regulations 2011
    are now already in place… so at the end what matters is the whole thing related to tobacco is easing!

  10. tokimada says

    The MP’s and the NC’s in their stupidity have passed a stupid bill, they are too stupid to rectify, the Pm’s EGO is hurt so he can’t seem to backdown, in the meanwhile people suffer in jail for a crime that is not yet a crime?

    In this process! Who is to blame?
    I would blame the judicary ! if they applied the law in the true spirit of the justice for all and stop behaving as an arm of the govt, this absurd issue would not have risen at all.
    the Judicary could have thrown the case out and told the govt when the Tobacco Control board has framed the rules and regulations for the implimentation of the act, the law will apply as specified in the bill.

    the judicary has gone beyond itself in trying to impliment a law that is not yet a law ? for What ?
    To please the govt.
    Is the Judicary going to resign when this govt ends its term ?

    If the Judicary feels that they are autonomous and independent of the govt, then they should behave as one and impliment the law.

    This expression” In the interest of justice ” really needs to looked into, in the interest of the justice a lot of innocent people are going to jail.

  11. pem tshering says

    Let us appoint the Chief of Police as the Head of the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority as he is able to come out with some more rules and regulations concerning the TCA, and forgetting his sacred responsibility arranging and constantly patroling the security in our towns; e.g. there is a total negligence by the Police during the third time fire casualty in Bumthang. The Home Minister has proven to be more efficient as a Dzongda as he is miserably failing and unlucky with his tenure as the Minister. During his tenure, people of Bhutan has experienced more internal disasters and problems, than in the past four decades in our history. I pray that most of the Ministers and MPs are removed from their seats in the next election, which is fortunately, just about 1 year 9 months away. Bhutan cannot go on with these kind of bosses of all sorts, and doing nothing for the country and people.


  1. […] released the Tobacco Control Rules and Regulations. The rules, which come a week after the government had issued guidelines to relax the implementation of the Tobacco Control Act, have made matters even more […]

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