Yesterday, the government 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 complicated.
According to the rules, we will not be sent to jail for attempting to bring tobacco into the country without declaring it or for possessing tobacco products. Instead, we’ll be let go with a warning or penalized in line with Sections 86, 87 and 90 which state that:
86. If a person tries to bring permissible quantity of tobacco and tobacco product without declaring at the authorized port of entry, the tobacco and tobacco product shall be confiscated and the person shall be warned in writing.
87. If a person tries to bring permissible quantity of tobacco and tobacco product without declaring at the authorized port of entry for the second time and thereafter, the tobacco or tobacco product shall be confiscated and the person shall be imposed a fine of minimum daily wage rate of one year.
90. If a person is in possession of permissible quantity of tobacco and tobacco product, which is brought into the country without payment of tax for personal consumption, the person shall be imposed a fine of Nu. 10,000/- and the tobacco and tobacco product shall be confiscated.
But there’s a problem: These rules may say that we won’t be sent to jail, but the Tobacco Control Act says that we will. The Act is quite clear on this – that’s why the judiciary has already sentenced several of our fellow citizens to prison.
And there’s another problem: These rules say that we won’t be sent to jail, but they are immediately undone by Section 92 of the rules itself according to which:
92. If a person violates section 11(a), (b) and (c) of the Act, he/she shall be charged as per the provisions of the Act, irrespective of the quantity of tobacco and tobacco product.
Section 11(c) of the Act prohibits us from buying tobacco. And, according to the Act, the offense for doing so is a misdemeanor (1 year to 3 years in prison) but only if we reveal the source. If we can’t reveal the source, a felony of the fourth degree (3 years to 5 years in prison) is added to the misdemeanor sentence.
The Tobacco Control Act is draconian. So we must correct it; we must correct the extreme penalties prescribed by the Act. But developing rules and regulations intended to circumvent the provisions of the Act is not the answer.
The answer is to amend the oppressive Act. We, members of Parliament, must accept that the Tobacco Control Act is causing unimaginable hardship and suffering to our fellow citizens throughout the country. We must amend the Act.