BNCA rules

Most of us support the objectives of the Tobacco Control Act, which is to reduce tobacco consumption – perhaps even eradicate it – in the country. But many of us are alarmed at the severe penalties being handed out under the Act.

First Sonam Tshering, a monk, was sentenced to three years in prison for possessing a mere 48 packets of chewing tobacco. He has appealed the verdict to the High Court.

Then Lhab Tshering, a driver, was arrested for possessing 64 packets of chewing tobacco. He’s currently being tried at the Thimphu District Court, and could also receive a three-year prison term.

And a couple of weeks ago, three people – an engineer, a soldier and an officer – were arrested for allegedly smuggling nine packets of cigarettes. Three people could go to jail for three years each for smuggling nine packets of cigarettes!

Most of us support the objectives of the Tobacco Control Act. But many of us can’t make sense of how the Act is being implemented.

So I was delighted to learn that the Royal Bhutan Police had offered the government a graceful way of resolving this predicament. Kuensel reported that the police had recently written to the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency asking them a very pertinent question:

Carrying what quantity of tobacco would be considered smuggling or violation of the Tobacco Act provisions?

And Kuensel reported that:

Police officials said for them to enforce the Tobacco Act, there was a need to “quantify” the amount of tobacco products a person was carrying.

“At least the minimum amount should be specified,” a police official said. “Are you going to charge a person, who is caught with a packet of cigarette, like one caught with thousands of tobacco products?”

But, sadly, the government did not seize the opportunity. Kuensel went on to report that:

BNCA officials said the penalty is the same, irrespective of the quantity of tobacco one is caught carrying.

There’s a big difference between smuggling to sell or distribute tobacco products, and illegal possession of tobacco for personal consumption. And that difference should be clearly defined in BNCA’s rules and regulations. But they feel that there’s no need to differentiate between the two.

That’s too bad. If the police’s concerns were accepted, a monk wouldn’t go to jail for possessing a few packets of khaini. A driver wouldn’t face a similar sentence for also possessing khaini. And three people wouldn’t be charged with smuggling nine packets of cigarettes.

At this rate, many more of our fellow citizens will end up in jail.

 

Facebook Comments:

Comments

  1. No matter what the RBP wrote to the BNCA, make sure than there is ONE NATION, ONE LAW, ONE PEOPLE in the country. One of the guys, as you know, had already been sentenced. And if news guys possesing equal amount of tobacco are not arrested or are not imprisoned, that will be a blatant display of double standard laws in our country.

  2. I would blame both (government and people).
    People: Knowing that people were sentenced for possessing negligible quantity of tobacco, it is people’s ignorance for repeating the same kind of work and finally landing up caught. I remember reading clearly that, people can carry tobacco products for their own consumption, provided they pay the tax and retain the proof of tax paid when charged.
    Government: being negligent in creating awareness of the “ACT” and implementing when desired.
    I would go with BNCA, that penalty should be same irrespective of the quantity “they” possess if there is no proof of tax being paid.

  3. Sorry guys but I think you gotta read this (if you have not): http://www.businessbhutan.bt/?p=5236

  4. For those people who say that quantity should no matter, you should think twice before saying such things. Otherwise it cannot be called justice. How is it fair that a person caught with one packet of cigarette be treated same as one caught with thousands. The punishment should fit the crime, otherwise we are making a mockery of country and our penal codes.
    There is a reason why killing of a person is classified into different categories and punished accordingly. For example, we have serial killer, pre-meditated murder, self defense,etc. Why don’t we treat all the murderers the same, after all they are all murderers, right. Rcently there was a news about murderers getting only 3 years , that also bailable. Are we sending out wrong messages to our people, are we telling our people that killing someone is better than bringing in smokes without tax receipt.

  5. Shop Lifter says:

    If I stole 100 nu from a shop without the knowledge of the shopkeeper. Is this not the same (if not more severe) than stealing the same amount of money right in front of his eyes?

    Does stealing necessarily have to be done in a way of breaking open the trunks? If you cheat a bus driver by not giving him the fare, or misappropriate some money from the government budget, is this not stealing?

    Let’s use some logic and common sense here.

  6. I dont find Equity & Justice of DPT when such LAWs are ruling the innocent people in the part of country.

  7. Anti-smoker says:

    Whatever differences are there in terms of the sentences of Tobacco Act, I think the results are positive. We can already see Thimphu much cleaner and healthier. Earlier it would be terrible to smell the dirty smoke coming from the smokers in the Hotels, buses, toilets etc. Now Bhutanese people can live longer and healthier and this can translate to many other benefits down the line. The Tobacco Act I think was passed for the benefit of the Bhutanese people and not to benefit anybody, not RBP, not BNCA, not MPs, not Health Ministry. I am sure many people are happy that this “poison” has been stopped from being brought into the country. Let us not encourage poisons to be brought into the country. We all feel sorry for Sonam Tshering but we need to think beyond in the overall benefit of the society and support this Tobacco Act. Unless such strong penalties are put in place, people will do all possible to make money. People even sell poisons as long as they can make money. We as believers of the principles of compassion must not forget the compassion for thousands of Bhutanese to let them live a long and happy life while being compassionate to individual few people.

  8. Concern Citizen says:

    We understand that law has to prevail and should abide by law. However you also need to understand that the every intention of laws under this sun is to render justice. When every intention of law is to render justice, can you still argue the existence of justice in our Tobacco Control Act which penalize people without taking consideration the degree of offence or crime. If you say the degree of offence is not factor to be considered for punishment, then for all and any types offence defined in all laws should have prescribe a penalty under felony. Did you see any law in any part of this world that doesn’t weigh the degree of offence and penalize equally irrespective of the infraction caused by the offence? If you have ever seen such laws, please provide me a copy of such act. If laws are to penalize irrespective of minor and heinous crime without weighing the degree of infraction, then very essence of law in itself lose.

  9. Concern Citizen says:

    Dear shoplifter,
    We understand that law has to prevail and should abide by law. However you also need to understand that the every intention of laws under this sun is to render justice. When every intention of law is to render justice, can you still argue the existence of justice in our Tobacco Control Act which penalize people without taking consideration the degree of offence or crime. If you say the degree of offence is not factor to be considered for punishment, then for all and any types offence defined in all laws should have prescribe a penalty under felony. Did you see any law in any part of this world that doesn’t weigh the degree of offence and penalize equally irrespective of the infraction caused by the offence? If you have ever seen such laws, please provide me a copy of such act. If laws are to penalize irrespective of minor and heinous crime without weighing the degree of infraction, then very essence of law in itself lose.

  10. I think everybody do sympathize with Sonam Tshering and others.

    People talk of correlating quantity of tobacco to degree of punishment.

    Is it possible to have law with details such as half day prison term for 1 pkt of chewing tobacco; 1 day for 1 pkt of cigarette; 1 year for 12 dozens of cigarette and so on.

    Does it matter in the eyes law whether a rape case is about 100 years old woman or a minor girl of 6 months old?

  11. Yes Kirkir,
    It does matter, otherwise there is no need for Judges and court system. Just write laws saying killing gets you this much, stealing gives you this much, raping gives you this much,etc. and just sentence people according to what is written in the laws. The reason countries spend a lot of money and infrastructure in developing good lawyers and judges is because you need someone to look at the crimes committed and render judgement accordingly. That is why they are called judges.
    For your information, yes there is different punishment for raping a minor or as you said 100 year old woman. Yes there is different punishment for people who kill. That is why you see some killers get 3 years while some get life time. Yes there is difference between stealing 10 ngultrum and million ngultrum. Yes there is difference between drug smuggling and drug consumption, yes there is difference between armed robbery and petty theft, yes there is difference between 1st degree and 2nd degree murder, yes there is difference between self defence and pre-meditated murder, yes there is difference between cheating in exam and cheating in a relationship, yes there is difference between stealing a photo copy paper and embezzling millions of ngultrums.

  12. OL,
    Please stop being a phony populist. This is a good initiative by the NA to stop this endemic spreading like wildfire in our country.
    Its true that the penalty is high and especially so when quantity is treated immaterial as long as the penalty is concerned. However a penalty must be something that people fear, something that can make people think twice before even thinking to commit an act. Did any of the earlier penalties on tobacco control work? Why? It is just because people did not heed the penalty.
    I think we can afford to put certain number of people behind bars if it can ultimately deter a large portion of population from getting habituated to tobacco consumption.
    For people who currently smoke I don’t

    think the law is unreasonable. They can bring in provided they pay tax. The act will have significant on youth and school going children who now dont have easy access to tobacco. this in itself is a great achievement. The no of young ppl picking up the habit will ultimately dwindle.

    There was that debate on the pros and cons of the act on bbs where none of the debaters opposing the act had any solid and logical argument. Dr. Tandin and Achut were just short of any logical argument. But the group of smokers and some people who, although support the act deep down, pretending to oppose trying to gain political mileage made up atleast in numbers to create an illusion to the viewers that the NA had done a mistake.

    Look at those selfish arguments put on the ” amend the tobacco control act” on facebook. Looking at the justifications put up there , the NA shouldn’t even bother to look at thier petition.

  13. So you want to lower the penalty for ppl who smuggle smaller amount. What if people form big gang and bring in small quantity. Won’t such collection become big while the penalty remains small.
    I think quantity does not matter as long as the substance is treated illegal.

  14. lindawangmo says:

    Haa haa Hover you will only come to know when only one of your own relative or someone close to you is locked up just for few packets of fags or Khani… You will realize when you go to the Police station to see that your relative is Jailed for three years and when you see somebody sitting next to him who is also sentenced for three years but for Rapping somebody and when you see somebody who has been just bailed out since he or she is on drugs

  15. Yangchung says:

    How can you eradicate if you are asking for weaker punishment? Aren’t you one of the law makers too, aren’t you the one to be blamed too? Gezzzzzzz!

  16. Linda,
    The following are my opinion.

    1. People who smoke in the villages will have no option but to quit since they will now not find it available in the shops in thier vicinity. This is an advantage of the law.

    2. People who are prone to tobacco will now no more access to it.

    3. People who travel and who can bring in tobacco can pay tax and smoke legally. Tax amount might make people quit.

    4. No of Shopkeepers whom ,till today, have been smuggling in tobacco will drastically reduce due to the harsh penalities.

    5. All the young people vulnerable to tobacco products in urban areas will have no easy access to tobacco products thereby detering people from picking up the habit.

    6 Finally, to your point, I think as a responsible family member it must be everyone’s responsibility, in any case, to advise family members to stay away from the habit. Even if there are smokers in the family, they have to now smoke responsibly by paying taxes.
    I think people are really being selfish. For that matter every law is like that. Be it murder, vandalism of religious monuments, etc, if one of my family members were to be arrested and sentenced, I personally would be affected. I will definitely be aggrieved.In that case the person getting arrested will get even more affected. There is no denying in that.
    But I don’t think we can make our laws weaker simply because the family members of the defaulters will be affected.
    On that ground no law is justifiable.

    I think the debate must be to raise the penalties on rapes, murder, etc and not on amending the tobacco control act.

  17. Well, to be frank, i made comment sometimes back on “Tobacco Act” stating simply that it was harsh and draconian. This is because i used to chew Khaini and sometimes smoke among friends. On the second thought, as time passes and reading several comments on the topic in various media and forum, and weighing pros and cons, i arrived at conclusion that Tobacco Act is necessary and severe punishment is justified when people break Tobacco prevention rules for following reasons:

    1. Tobacco is harmful to health of smokers and chewers, and also to neighbours
    2. There are several medical publications linking smoking to all kinds of health hazards
    3. Tobacco companies exploit workers in developing countries by paying them low wages to grow tobacco plants
    4. Tobacco also harms other living things like insects, (e.g. Leeches) and in many countries Tobacco plant is used as insect repellent
    5. Tobacco is believed to be responsible for poor eye sight of Guru Rimpoche, which as a result, many bad things are happening around us.

    After knowing these reasons, i tried to give up chewing tobacco, and now i have almost done away with the habit.

    Cheers

  18. Tserim yuki says:

    I don’t want to read all these comments and reply, but to post my own opinion here…its too heavy I mean the penalty, infact people should be made aware by creating awareness campaigns before penalizing them. We are unaware of the act itself and how can be the government so rude by penalizing us before making the citizens fully aware of rules, acts and so on….is that the govt.don’t have any work in hand so that they are making all such concerns an issue or..whats happening in GNH nation.

  19. Truth_is_Buddha says:

    The tobacco control act reflects the poor legal soundness/ qualifications of our lawmakers. Long term vision and ramifications of long term negative social impacts have not been taken into account, while formulating and thinking through the enactment of this act. It is not an everyday task for us to go ahead and change a ‘national act’ that is in vogue. If the provisions of the act is silent on the quantity, for example, then BNCA would have no powers to suggest alternative clauses. A lesson learnt: To deliberate extensively on the pros and cons, and long term implications of enacting any laws, and to be sensitive to the general welfare of our poor population. As for the tobacco control act, the only option is for the parliamentarians to open this embarassing issue once more in the house, get some important amendment clauses incorporated, and then become one law wiser, for a better Bhutanese tomorrow.

  20. pem tshering says:

    Tobacco Experts (most consuming tobacco for themselves, unfortunately) should have been consulted and organzied an National Seminar on Tobacco Act before the government decided on the Act, because we now know that the government of Bhutan cannot do anything without hiring an expert from outside. Our great PM has so many friends who may also be Tobacco Experts, you know. May be he was clever not to have his say in this, because he is happily living with a tobacco/smoker himself.

  21. Tobacco is bad so I abuse it! says:

    For those people who says the Act is for the good of the smokers health.. i say who appointed you or for that matter anybody to become the guardian of somebody’s health? If you don’t like shit, stop eating shit but let others decide what they like?
    For those people who think its against Buddhism to smoke or chew tobacco, i say doesn’t Buddhism say sex is bad too? did you give up sex? keep your religion to yourself. If you want to believe in absurdities be my guest but do not impose onto others and certainly do not think that you are right.
    For those people who think smoking and chewing tobacco pollutes the air, i say we should imprison everyone for exhaling carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. or is it that you do not breathe? jail all people who owns cars, jail even cows for exhaling methane into the atmosphere.
    Hiprocracy knows no bound for you people.

  22. Concern Citizen says:

    Dear dcded,
    Answer for, ” What if people form big gang and bring in small quantity”.

    This is called organised or syndicate crime in law. For this, law should have separate provision to deal with such crime.
    Don’t think every feeling of yours is always right without analyzing it.
    So you read the following lines;

    Its against the principle of law to penalise any person with the penalty that doesn’t fit the crime.
    Secondly the intention of should not be only to penalise people but to put corrective measure on them.

  23. I think in this forum no one is imposing anything on anybody. It is a free discussion forum (unless blog owner says otherwise);we all have right to express what we feel about something.

    Cheers

  24. Tobaco is bad,
    Now i know why goverment made the penalty so harsh looking at the sense in your post. No more debate. Most difficult thing is the world is to argue with an ignorant man.

    Concern citizen
    Yes the law has a seperate provision to deal with it. That is treat any amount as illegal.

    I don’t think law can have soft corrective measures. Some Laws are meant for people who cannot take care of themselves

  25. guardian says:

    I agree that the tobacco act is bit too draconian. Earlier the tobacco act had no teeth, the new act now seems to have given them too much teeth. Maybe, the two should meet half way so that all parties are satisfied. With this back lash, I am sure the RGOB will amend the act as soon as it is legally possible for them.

    On a lighter note, if they were to amend it during this coming session of parliament which according to the Speaker of house is now allowed by the constitution, I wonder if the OL would be willing to take the government to court for violating the provisions of the constitution.

  26. guardian says:

    I agree that the tobacco act is a bit too draconian. Earlier the tobacco act had no teeth, the new act now seems to have given them too much teeth. Maybe the two should meet halfway so that all concerned parties are satisfied. With this back lash, I am sure the RGOB will amend the act as soon as it is legally possible for them.

    On a lighter note, if they were to amend the act in the coming session of parliament which according to the speaker of the house is not allowed by the constitution, I wonder if the OL would be willing to drag the government to court for violating the provisions of the constitution.

    My earlier post had a few mistakes and hence did not make sense so I am posting it again with a few corrections, so apologies to anyone that is offended by this act of mine.

  27. Concern Citizen says:

    Dear Hover,
    First you read what dcded wrote in the forum,
    He wrote, ” What if people form big gang and bring in small quantity”.
    This was my answer; This is called organised or syndicate crime in law. For this, law should have separate provision to deal with such crime.
    Its against the principle of law to penalise any person with the penalty that doesn’t fit the crime.
    Secondly the intention of should not be only to penalise people but to put corrective measure on them.

  28. The point is that the punishments for contravening the Tobacco Act are out of all proportion to the crime. The Government should own up to the mistake and rectify it.

    Shoddy lawmaking leads to all kinds of bad consequences. If the government implements laws like this young people will gradually loose all respect for the law – not just this law in particular but the laws of our country in general.

    Why was there even any need for a separate Tobacco Act? If the government believes Tobacco is a harmful addictive drug they could have simply classified it as such and then the drug laws would have applied to tobacco and the punishment would have been the same.

    As it is punishment handed for possessing tobacco is more than for possessing drugs. It seems a Bhutanese is now likely to be punished more for possessing a few cigarettes than for beating up his wife, or raping a girl.

    Where is the justice in this?

    The intent of the law – to stop Bhutanese ruining their health and the health of others – may be good, but the law was shoddily drafted with apparently no proper deliberation and thought given to the appropriate punishment.

    IMO Possession of small amount of tobacco products should be made a civil not a criminal offence. At the same time the authorities should offer help to tobacco addicts through counselling and providing effective aids such as nicotine patches and gum to help tobacco addicts kick the habit.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Tobgay reports that the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency has rejected a plea by the Bhutan police to quantify the […]

  2. […] Tobgay reports that the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency has rejected a plea by the Bhutan police to quantify the […]

  3. […] Tobgay reports that the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency has rejected a plea by the Bhutan police to quantify the […]

  4. […] 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. […]

Leave a Reply