Control tobacco control

The International Tobacco Control Bhutan Report has recently established that the majority of the Bhutanese support tobacco control. According to the report, 95% of us disapprove of tobacco consumption due to religious reasons. And 97% of us support strict tobacco control.

The report seems to have given the government a renewed sense of confidence in the Tobacco Control Act. And a smug health minister was recently quoted as declaring that “… the members of parliament will think twice to amend the Tobacco Control Act now.”

But the ITC Bhutan Report has not revealed anything new. We already know that, in general, we, Bhutanese, frown on tobacco consumption. And that most of us favour tobacco control measures. The report has not “revealed” anything new. So there’s no reason for us to get excited.

There’s no doubt that we, Bhutanese, by and large, support the overall intention of the Tobacco Control Act. All of us wish to reduce – perhaps even eradicate – the use of tobacco in our country.

But that does not mean that we should not question the details of the Tobacco Control Act. Or that we should not challenge the way the government implements (or does not implement) the provisions of the act.

So we cannot allow the government to use a report prepared by a foreign agency – an interest group at that – to subvert the ongoing discussions on tobacco control.

Discussions that seek to ask, for instance, why Sonam Tshering must be sentenced to three years in imprisonment for simply possessing 48 packets of chewing tobacco that retails in India for a mere Nu 98.

Is he being sent to jail because chewing tobacco is criminal? If so, why are we allowed to consume tobacco in the first place? The Act, after all, entitles us to consume tobacco – to chew and to smoke, even in designated public places – if the tobacco we so consume has been imported legally.

Or is he being sent to jail for tax evasion? He bought the tobacco in India, but did not declare it or pay taxes on it when he entered Bhutan. Had he declared the 48 packets of chewing tobacco, he would have had to pay Nu 98 in taxes. For Nu 98 in unpaid taxes you don’t normally even get questioned, let alone sent to jail, and sent to jail for three years at that.

Or is he being sent to jail for smuggling. The Tobacco Control Act stipulates a minimum sentence of three years in jail for smuggling tobacco. But is the prosecution convinced that Sonam Tshering was indeed smuggling? If so, can they prove that he was smuggling? After all, 48 packets of chewing tobacco, worth only Nu 98 in India, could hardly be enough for a black market. So they must have been bought for his personal consumption.

Sonam Tshering represents just the tip of the iceberg. Many others have been arrested, some for possessing even smaller quantities of tobacco. At this rate, many more of us will end up in jail unless we amend the Tobacco Control Act.

We must abide by the laws of the land. And if we violate them, we must accept punishment. But if a law is defective – if it is unjust, if it is draconian – we must discuss it, we must review it, and, if needed, be prepared to amend it.

Yes, we frown on tobacco consumption. And yes, we support tobacco control. We know this. And we don’t need the International Tobacco Control Project to tell us what we already know.

What the ITC Project may want to know – and what the government would do well to acknowledge – is that support for tobacco control may be high, but that that does not mean that we are willing to send fellow citizens to jail for possessing small amounts of tobacco.

 

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  1. Ol, Nice arguments but such findings has further influenced government not to amend the act. Whoosh, i am tired of complaining now.

  2. I would also like to add that the government should be more concerned about the citizens of the country and not about what some outsiders think.
    Our voices should count…. obviously majority of the people who are appealing are educated and probably consumers but these people are affected the most as well by the act.
    I think the survey was biased anyway. We would like to see the survey instrument and see how questions were framed or who were the subjects. I would have loved to answer the survey but I didn’t get one.

    I don’t think the Government should take people for granted. we might lose patience ….. I don;t think Government should listen to outsiders whose intentions we are not sure about. At the end of the day, I don;t think any outsiders can beat citizens love of a country.. esp. in Bhutan. We have the best interest of the future.
    Amending the tobacco law when it is not too late will be to my opinion one of the best thing that the government will be doing in its five years of tenure…. if they do it….
    This is a personal appeal to the government ..on behalf of the people who are otherwise law abiding citizens and their family not to brush this off… to really analyze this objectively and not as an opposition to the Opposition..
    the best way a democracy can run is for the two parties to work together…

  3. Thinlay says:

    Instead of three years jail term for tobacco smuggling, is there a way to pay equivalent fine in Nu.?

    Cheers

  4. Thinlay, yes you do, but in order to qualify you need to have certain wealth, certain connections, related to big shots. If you have those three, you can even get away with murder.
    Unfortunately for the majority of the Bhutanese population, they are not blessed with the above three qualities, so we will rot in the prison.

  5. Thinlay says:

    Perhaps, there is truth in what “truth” has described above. A case in point is recent court verdict at Paro where three individuals caught with Tobacco product at Paro airport has been granted bail for a year on health ground. I do not know the veracity of the process involved in granting bail, but general people feel that it is because officials were involved rather than ordinary folks. If officials were granted bail due to their position in society then we are really in deep turmoil as far as dispensing justices is concerned. I sincerely hope that this may not be the case. May be they are too sick to withstand harsh jail term!

    Cheers

  6. Dogchok-gi-dokchog says:

    All offenders should be made to do social work like cleaning drains, picking up rubbish along the streets, washing hospital linen etc.. instead of imprisoning them. That way, we can turn a problem into an opportunity and at the same time reform the offenders.

  7. Govt. expect only common people to implement the Tobacco Control Act but govt. agencies responsible for implementing some of the provision required by the act is miserably failing.
    No smoking place in Public palaces

  8. As someone said: Statistics is nothing but a means of pushing the things to someone who is not so good at calculations.

    If you carry out a survey amongst school children and ask them whether ‘S@#’ is a good thing or Bad, then probably the statistics will brand ‘S@#’ as the most dangerous thing happening in this planet.

    Don’t go by the survey reports…Everyone here knows what is right and what is wrong. The only maturity which we want to see in our policy makers is “Are we a true democracy where the constitution caters for “For the People”. There could be several ways to explain something which is wrong as right but in our hearts we all know What is right and why there is a ISSUE in this issue.

    When i say right I don’t say that I am right, because to me for every situation there are three views, One view could be my view, the other view could be our governments and the third view is the Right view. We can see this right view only if we give up negating and fighting with each other and accept that there is a problem and which need to be addressed by us jointly.

    Hopeful….

  9. I found this on OL’s facebook page. Very well written and very true. Please read.

    DPT government’s modus operandi
    The Bhutanese people have never been the top priority for this government. The government is desperately seeking international fame at the cost of the welfare of its citizens. The government, voted into power by the Bhutanese people, appears to be working at the behest of some international organizations. The personal motive of some people in the government and the vested interest of the organizations are clear. How sad that some ordinary people have to go to jail to materialize their dishonorable deal!

    Apparently the government seems to be out of sync with the realities of Bhutan and the Bhutanese. The government is fond of introducing notorious, ruthless, and disreputable laws and policies – each time taking Bhutan a step closer to the Taliban regime. People are losing faith in the justice system owing to frequent uneven application of laws. Whenever there is a genuine appeal from the people against the harsh laws and regulations, the government either invites so called “experts” to shut the appellants or conducts a highly unreliable survey to make their propaganda official.

    No honest (conceptually and technically sound, and without conflict of interest) exploratory survey was carried out in the interest of the people. Most of the social surveys are being carried out to formalize the twisted perception and manipulated figures of some people. Unfortunately this is becoming ‘authenticated’ national standards, which don’t reflect the real situation. This is one reason I know for certainty that we have to manipulate the result of survey descriptive statistics (we perform no statistical analysis beyond cursory descriptive statistics) to tally/match with the manipulated figures.

    Some of us have fervently questioned the veracity of most of the social surveys and analyses undertaken by the Labour Ministry, Ministry of Information and Communications, and others with huge budgets. The officials stood firm. We aren’t convinced. Is there a possibility to institute an independent body to investigate these sorts of scams? We are pouring in millions of dollars into such surveys, and eventually if what we are getting are manipulated figures and already preconceived notions, then I feel an independent inquiry is warranted. The body would make all the material available to us and we carry out our own analysis to logically counter the established/claimed findings. Since this is a serious accusation we can strike costly deals. This would set a standard for all national and international consultants/researchers, and they would think twice before they take us for granted. I have no doubt and I don’t hesitate to condemn the unemployment rate as a manipulated figure.

    International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project: highly suspicious and disgrace to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Health Minister Zangley and Secretary Gado have relegated our children to guinea pigs and tested pentavalent vaccines on them. Now going through ITC Bhutan Report it is so obvious that Tobacco Control Act is a well calibrated propaganda. It isn’t a home-grown act. What can I make of our leaders !(:

    MY ADDITION: THE CURRENT HEALTH SECRETARY MUST BE CHARGED FOR EMBEZZLING MILLIONS OF MONEY AND COMMITTING CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IMMEDIATELY. AS LONG AS THERE ARE PEOPLE LIKE HIM IN THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH, THE HEALTH SYSTEM IN OUR COUNTRY WILL NEVER EVER IMPROVE NO MATTER WHAT EMERGENCY PHONE LINES THEY SET UP OR WHAT PUBLIC INFORMATION CARTOONS THEY PLAY ON THE BBSTV TO MAKE SOME IMPRESSIONS.

    WE NEED TO GET DOWN TO THE ROOT CAUSE OF ALL PROBLEMS TO SOLVE ANY PROBLEMS!

  10. We could just say ITC confirmed what we already knew. But I have to say the OL went for the wrong professional to save Sonam Tshering. Instead of getting him a lawyer, OL could have done better by looking for a doctor who could get him the pardon through some medical certification. It seems to work every time. I’ve heard that the justice system accepts it even from a non-practicing doctor, and that too for a different area of expertise (e.g. a GP certifying psychological/ psychiatric disorder). This is a trick from a typical bollywood flick. I’m really thrilled that it works so well in Bhutan.
    Now coming to the amendment of the law, I understand that it is harsh (at least in Sonam Tshering’s case), but let’s also not pretend that tobacco can be controlled with more lenient ways.

  11. Goodluck!

  12. sonam_t says:

    Tangba: Thank you for reproducing my comments here. Your kind words motivated me to edit it add some more.

    Every time I finish reading your post, I feel relieved with obscure thoughts hovering in my mind – for some reason. Sometimes your posts are explicit, other times implicit; but the crux has been the same -robust and valid. I read your explicit posts with passion, and I get convinced. Or should I say reaffirmed. Your implicit posts are intriguing; they provide a specific way for my personal investigation. This is one such post that I would like to share some of my thoughts.

    1) DPT government’s modus operandi.

    The Bhutanese people have never been the top priority for this government. The government is desperately seeking international fame at the cost of the welfare of its citizens. The government, voted into power by the Bhutanese people, appears to be working at the behest of some international organizations. The personal motive of some people in the government and the vested interest of the organizations are clear. How sad that some ordinary people have to go to jail to materialize their shady deal!

    Apparently the government seems to be out of sync with the realities of Bhutan and the Bhutanese. The government is fond of introducing notorious, ruthless, and disreputable laws and policies – each time taking Bhutan a step closer to the Taliban regime. People are losing faith in the justice system, owing to frequent uneven application of laws. Whenever there is a genuine appeal from the people against the harsh laws and regulations, the government either invites so called “experts” to shut the appellants or conducts a dubious survey to make their propaganda official.

    No honest (conceptually and technically sound, and without conflict of interest) survey has been carried out in the interest of the people. Most of the social surveys are being carried out to formalize the twisted perception and manipulated figures of some people. Unfortunately, this is becoming ‘authenticated’ national standards, which don’t reflect the real situation. This is one reason, I know for certainty, that we have to manipulate the result of survey statistics (We perform no statistical analysis beyond cursory descriptive statistics.) to tally or make them consistent with the manipulated figures.

    Some of us have fervently questioned the veracity of most of the social surveys and analyses undertaken by the Labour Ministry, Ministry of Information and Communications, and others with huge donor’s budgets. The officials stood firm. We aren’t convinced. Is there a possibility to institute an independent body to investigate these sorts of scams? We are pouring in millions of dollars into such surveys, and eventually if what we are getting are manipulated figures and already preconceived notions, then I feel an independent inquiry is warranted. The body would make all the materials, raw instruments and reports, available to us and we carry out our own analysis to back up our stands. This would set a standard for all national and international consultants/researchers, and they would think twice before they take us for granted. I have no doubt, and I don’t hesitate to condemn the unemployment rate as a manipulated/distorted figure.

    2) International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project: highly suspicious and a disgrace to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud

    Health Minister Zangley and Secretary Gado have relegated our children to guinea pigs and tested pentavalent vaccines on them. Now, going through ITC Bhutan Report, it is so obvious that Tobacco Control Act is a well calibrated propaganda. It isn’t a home-grown act.

    International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project says it evaluates psychosocial and behavioural effects of national-level tobacco control policies, but I am sorry to say that the people at the project didn’t understand the discipline well and instead got swayed by the big fat sponsors who have a direct interest in it. The report looks more like a work of tobacco control fanatics than the findings of responsible researchers.

    If I am not mistaken there is something called ‘conflict of interest committee’ to advice on questions concerning conflicts of interests; to review conflict of interest disclosures; and finally to protect the integrity of investigators. Seemingly this is lacking in this report – revealing its questionable integrity and validity. The committee plays a critical role especially when the findings bear a policy and decision making influence. All it has on the main page are the banners of the fat sponsors. A brazen compromise on research ethics and integrity!

    The report is synonymous with opinion poll results. It is silent on the effect/side-effect of ‘national-level tobacco control policies’ as they put it or the ban on behavior and mental processes of the Bhutanese citizens. So much for psychology research, the science of mind and behavior to cure mental illness!

    It is bemusing that the project report on evaluation of psychosocial and behavioural effects of tobacco control policies says nothing about the cause and effect of the policy on psychology of the people, particularly smokers and addicts. It delves no further than the basic frequency tables. Is this psychosocial and behavior research?

    Going by the report, the team conducted a small -scale survey in 4 selected dzongkhags; computed basic statistics; and then jumped to the conclusion that 95% of Bhutanese disapprove of tobacco use due to religious reasons, and 97% in support of strict control. This is baffling and perplexing to a statistics student! I would love to know more about the research question formulation to instrument designing to data imputation to analysis to inference…If the team is confident of the report credibility, I am sure they wouldn’t hesitate to share their work in public. This is the usual trend with international comparative studies. They share everything including data and survey instruments. This would only make your claim weightier and give a clearer picture of the situation to help formulate proper polices.

    Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, used cocaine as a stimulant. He believed that cocaine was a cure for many mental and physical problems, and recommended medical applications, including its use as an antidepressant. He has also written at length on repression and how it can pose a conflict for the individuals. The tobacco control ban is one form of mental repression.

    The farsightedness of our leaders doesn’t extend beyond the vision of naked eyes. The effects of their decisions on the minds (mental process) of the people are always ignored, disregarded and neglected. The sheer audacity of our leaders to go ahead with a decision, least mindful (ignorant) of its consequences is distressing. So much for the emphasis on inner well-ness of GNH philosophy! If the help of a psychologist is deemed necessary to deal with addicts of tobacco- related substances, then it is equally important to consult the professional when framing a law that has direct consequences on the same lot.

    If the Health Minister or anyone is going to base their argument (v. likely) to support the ban on this report, then concerned citizens must explore legal options (I think of plenty) to impeach the Minister and sue the organizations.

  13. nima harku says:

    i would like to bring to notice of everyone that tobacco control survey by international tobacco control was not aimed to influence the Tobacco Control Act. As a surveyor of this survey i know the expenditure MoH incurred in it. It is a professional and elaborated survey about the tobacco and related issues. And i hope people would not misunderstand the very purpose of this survey.

  14. sonam_t says:

    thank you for the information. i think you are right. we could gauge it from the seriousness of health minister about this report. it is a professional survey. and I am sure it would be very useful in our policy formulation. the survey team and the experts should be congratulated and appreciated. in this regard, some of us are interested to know the technicalities(concepts and statistics) of the survey instrument, logic implied behind generalization, and the wisdom behind interpretation simply to continue respects and applauses.

  15. i wonder what percentage of the subjects are actually consumers of tobacco. You see, the survey is already biased if only non consumers were interviewed. You can’t interview home owners and ask them if they are negatively affected by increase in the rent.
    The main principle behind such research should be to see if also consumers are affected. I know that would be too much to ask of our present government who doesn’t seem to heed much about certain sections of the people but the least -I hope that they have done it- could have been include consumers in their survey and get their feed back.
    I would have absolutely liked to be part of the survey.

  16. sonam_t says:

    I quickly ran through the report and found the interpretation a bit assuming, and the generalization a bit presumptuous – incommensurate with the scope of the study undertaken, to say the least.

    Statistical biases (from sampling to interviewing to imputation to analysis to…) and human error, inadvertent or otherwise, are altogether a different issue. it is not possible to discuss here on this limited interface.

  17. guardian says:

    If the monk Sonam Tshering was carrying more tobacco products than the law allows one to import legally, then he was smuggling, whether he knew it or not that is the big question. Like everyone else, I also agree that the law is too harsh, however, looking at it from a purely legal point, then the monk is indeed guilty of smuggling.

  18. if possible better stop the law

  19. Joe Schmoe says:

    As far as I’m concerned, tobacco is intrinsically criminal. Despite tight laws here in New York, I am still subjected to other people’s smoke. Hopefully, you can do better than we’re doing.

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