The Tobacco Control Act 2010 is in focus today, seen as either promoting human health or environment by one group and as a piece of legislation that has lost touch with reality in following our aspirations by another and I am guessing there are others who are yet to form opinions. Either way, it has become the most talked about legislation.
Does it deserve as much attention given priorities like socio-economic development vital to our society today, specifically because many places still remain to be connected by road, electricity and other rural income generation challenges? This is like the primordial question of which came first; the chicken or the egg. To each one, depending on their hierarchy of needs and hence, perception, opinions may vary. One thing is certain though, it has brought to the fore (I had written about the responsibility of law-making) how a piece of legislation can affect our lives, some perhaps not as subtle as others. It is important to note as law-makers, as communities, as institutions and as a society that laws are enacted for the betterment of all. It is with the assumption that it will benefit many, if not all, that a process of law-making is initiated and concluded. As we move forward into our 3rd year of democracy, it has been a learning process and I am hopeful these processes will shape our Bhutanese democracy, in spirit and in action, which our Constitution envisages. As law-makers elected from society to represent the people, we take decisions and as is the case, decisions can never really cater to desires of all pockets of society but it is, in the earnest hope that it would be fair that decisions are often made on their behalf, as law-makers.
The Tobacco Control Act 2010 (TCA2010 here after) is such a case. Bhutan took a policy decision long before the promulgation of the Constitution of Bhutan on the matter. I do not want to dwell on explaining what had happened but I would rather, come straight to the current legislation as it is with this legislation that the parliamentary process has gained a lot more attention, which is a good thing because even legislating needs scrutiny and good governance. This is not to undermine the system we have in place today but I believe there is always room for improvement.
During one of the more recent plenary sittings (i.e., April 20, 2011) members had the opportunity, as always to submit issues and concerns for the up-coming summer session of the Parliament. Naturally, many issues were raised by members and I raised one too, one of re-visiting the TCA2010. As any institution would have, there are rules and systems that need to be respected and my raising the issue needed colleagues who supported the issue before it could proceed any further. The proposal to re-visit the TCA2010 was supported by a few fellow members, allowing it to move further and I thank them for their sound reasoning and logic in supporting it. I will not go into the specifics but suffice to say that the National Council did not ‘refuse’ the proposition of re-visiting it. This may be received in varying angles in society but it is crucial to understand that law-making is a very complex process which involves a lot of thinking and often several more re-thinking. Society often expects and demands differing view-points, knowing that in differences, debates arise which allow for a larger picture to be painted. Differing view-points emerge more often than not and in re-visiting the TCA2010 I am quite certain, differing view-points will emerge (as in the past).
A primary reason for proposing the re-visit was to analyze the legislation for fairness of penalty and it’s impact on society (both good and bad) and I hope, this journey begins soon.
I have tried in the past to high-light some of the finer points in the TCA2010. A very important and crucial aspect of the law is when it comes to protecting people who do not use tobacco from unwanted exposure to tobacco and it’s ill effects. One cannot rule out the positive benefit this has and will continue bring to these people. There are also provisions which allow tobacco users (more specifically smokers) to smoke tobacco at designated places. If these conveniences are not there today, it is because of the failure on the part of the implementing agencies. This is not to shift the blame away but on reflection, a dimension to the argument for re-visiting the TCA2010 and quite reasonably if I may add.
The discussions in the National Council Hall saw many of the reasons cited by critics of the TCA2010 raised today. Severity of penalty, proportionality and even the ban itself creating differences in accessibility to outlets because of where one lived; these arguments were all raised and discussed. The debates saw arguments from the other side too; the benefits it could bring to society in the long term, the curb on smuggling and many others. Many today are aware through media (social media included) that a group of people have approached the Government and have submitted their concerns and request for a re-assessment of the law. Recent emergence of news on both mainstream media and others have allowed us to understand the progress on the matter, this is a contribution on my own part a complimenting piece of information because I feel that as much as social media allows us information, it can also sometimes provide incomplete pictures.