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Tobacco sale banned
December 17, 2004
In keeping with the decision of the Bhutanese parliament, the nationwide ban on the sale of tobacco products was implemented from today making Bhutan the first country in the world to do so.

Initiated by the Health Ministry, the decision on the ban was taken by the 82nd session of the National Assembly on August 12, along with the ratification of the WHO convention on the Tobacco control. The ban, Assembly members pitched, was the wishes of the people.

Tobacco was already banned in 18 of Bhutan's 20 districts. A ban on the sale of all tobacco products has come into effect in Bhutan. All smoking in public places has also been banned.

People, however, can import cigarettes for personal consumption but subject to certain restrictions.

The tobacco ban will not apply to foreign tourists, diplomats or those working for NGOs. People who cannot kick the habit can import tobacco for personal use, but at a 100 percent tax. They can only smoke indoors in the privacy of their homes.

People, however, can import cigarettes for personal consumption but subject to certain restrictions.

According to the Revenue and Customs, the maximum amount of cigarettes that can be imported for personal consumption is 200 pieces. For other tobacco products like snuff and chewing tobacco, the maximum import amount is 50 grams. For pipe tobacco, it is three tins of 50 grams each.

The sale of tobacco products in the country's only duty free shops in Thimphu and Paro Airport was banned from January 2003.

Cigarettes imported from India will be levied a 100 percent sales tax on the cost price whereas imports from third countries will be levied a 100 percent sales tax plus a 100 percent customs duty. Prior to the ban, cigarettes were levied a 50 percent sales tax.

The tax is less on the import from India because of the free trade agreement that Bhutan shares with the country, said custom officials adding that cigarette was the most sold tobacco product in Bhutan.

The revenue and customs has also stopped, from December 17, the duty free quota of one cigarette carton of third country brand for all Drukair passengers.

The ministry officials warned that it would impose Nu. 10,000 ($210) on the ban violators and owners of shops and hotels engaged in tobacco sales would lose their business licenses.
If any foreigner is caught selling tobacco products to Bhutanese nationals, he will be charged with smuggling

But people are skeptic that the ban would lead to a black market. In 18 of the 20 districts where an existing tobacco sales ban is in force, tobacco is discreetly available at inflated prices.

Stricter rules are also being proposed to snuff out the smoke. The Health Ministry during the first coordination meeting of stakeholders on tobacco control on December 15, proposed banning smoking in several public places including recreational outlets like bars, discotheques, restaurants and snooker rooms.

Smoke free places are also being proposed for sports centres like archery grounds, public institutions, commercial outlets and bus stands. The meeting also discussed the need of having an "enabling legislation" to help implement the ban.

To make the ban effective, the Health Ministry has indicated that the issue of the sale of cigarettes from DANTAK and IMTRAT canteens around the country will be taken up with the government soon. People have criticised that the ban on sale of tobacco would be toothless as long as the DANTAK and IMTRAT canteens were allowed to sell cigarettes to the Bhutanese.

Contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2004
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