NA adopts Tobacco Control Amendment Bill

The Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo

Parliament also passes the Tax Bill of Bhutan 2021

Sangay Rabten

The National Assembly on Friday passed the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill 2021 and Tax Bill of Bhutan 2021.

In adopting the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021 among 35 sitting members, 33 supported the Bill while 1voted against while one abstained to vote.  

The Amended Bill will enable selling, distributing, buying, possessing and transporting tobacco or tobacco products in the country legally. 

The move was initiated by the government with the objective to reduce the threats of COVID-19 with the continuous smuggling of tobacco products through the country’s porous southern border.

However, the lift of ban does not include production and manufacturing of tobacco and tobacco products in the country which means production and manufacturing will not be allowed.

The Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo, presented the Committee’s recommendation on the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill 2021 on Thursday. The committee proposed amendment of the Bill along with 19 recommendations.

The Chairperson said that though ‘Section 11 B’ was not altered however, the clause that prohibits the sale of tobacco products was repealed. 

The sections on fines and penalties and possession and transportation of tobacco and tobacco products are now removed and the limit on the permissible quantity for import of such products has also been repealed.

Before the relevant section was repealed, an individual was allowed to import only 800 sticks of cigarettes or 1200 sticks of bidis or 150 pieces of cigars or 750 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products.

If the Bill is endorsed, the government has assured to take measures to prevent people from using the tobacco products.

The foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government will create awareness and asked health ministry to develop a programme to help people cut down on their tobacco consumption.

Like alcohol, the minister said, tobacco products to anyone below the age of 18 as will not be sold as it is clearly reflected in the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority’s Rules and Regulations.

The Member In-charge of the Tax Bill of Bhutan 2021, Minister for Finance also moved the motion to adopt the Bill. The parliament then voted 33 Yes and 1 No while2abstained out of 36 Members present. 

On the same day the Tax Bill of Bhutan 2021 was also adopted where the House voted 33 Yes 1 No and 2 Abstain from 36 sitting Members.

The Member In-charge of the Bill, the Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, moved the motion to adopt the Bill.

As of today, 100 per cent Sales Tax levied for an individual importing tobacco from India. And an additional 100 per cent customs tax is imposed if a person brings in tobacco and tobacco products from third countries.

The House unanimously agreed to do away with the Sales Tax on tobacco and tobacco products. The government introduced the Tax Bill of Bhutan 2021 for the tax revision as an interim measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 finding COVID-19 protocols are breached along the Southern border black smuggling of tobacco and tobacco products.

A few members of parliament recommended doing away with customs duty along with the sales tax.

The Finance Minister said that tobacco products brought via air are for self-consumption and there is no point to change the custom duty as it has never affected the country.

However, he said, “Tobacco products used in the country are smuggled from India.”  He added that doing away with custom duty for tobacco products will encourage people to use more.

However, the foreign minister said that the lifting of the ban does not mean that tobacco products will be available everywhere.

“Shops in the vicinity of institutions like schools and lhakhangs would not be allowed to sell tobacco,” the minister said.

The Bills will be referred to the National Council. 

The Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan was enacted by the Parliament of Bhutan on 6 June 2010 and came into force on 16 June. It regulates tobacco and tobacco products, banning the cultivation, harvesting, production, and sale of tobacco and tobacco products in Bhutan.

The act also mandates that the government of Bhutan provide counselling and treatment to facilitate tobacco cessation. Premised on the physical health and well-being of the Bhutanese people – important elements of Gross National Happiness – the Tobacco Control Act recognizes the harmful effects of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke on both spiritual and social health.