Re-visiting the Tobacco Control Act 2010

cigarette - To be or Not to be

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.

 

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About Sangay Khandu

Sangay Khandu is a Member of Parliament, serving his 2nd term representing the people of Gasa Dzongkhag to the National Council.
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5 Responses to Re-visiting the Tobacco Control Act 2010

  1. Ngawang says:

    Please change the background colour of your website.

  2. Di says:

    This is a confusing post. So is the NC going to revisit the Act? And when? Agreed lawmaking requires a lot of thought. Obviously you have heard the many voices on both sides of the debate. Personally I think those who support the Act have flimsy reasoning, but that’s my opinions.
    I just wanted to take up the whole “protecting people who do not use tobacco from unwanted exposure to tobacco and it’s ill effects” argument. You cannot do that. People can still smoke/chew tobacco with receipts, dad might smoke at home in front of his kids, etc. People travel, watch TV, read. And there is of course the most important point- black market. It doesn’t die down. Smokers are not motivated to give up because of a law. Sometimes it works in the opposite way, people are angry and want to defy what they think is a silly law. It is impossible to fairly enforce this law, it requires huge time, money and effort. If the lawmakers hope to make a few big arrests and scare the rest of the people into submission, well i just hope our lawmakers know in their hearts how wrong this is. So the tobacco still comes in, and people are not ‘protected from tobacco’ any more than they were before all this happened.
    I’m sure you agree that a better option is education, and enlisting the help of media in making the use of tobacco look unattractive. After all, using tobacco is a indication of poor personal hyegine and care.
    By “protecting people who do not use tobacco from unwanted exposure to tobacco and it’s ill effects” if you mean second hand smoke, then of course there are solutions to that too, as you pointed out- designated smoking areas, making it an offence to smoke in the presence of minors especially children, and more easily enforceable- making it illegal for children to get access to cigarettes/khaini. I have seen little schoolboys smoke even after this law. Now that is wrong and should be taken care of, and this act is obviously not making the right impact in my opinion because i see booming black market, children smoking, and worst of all, people convicted for possessing small amounts of tobacco, and given such harsh punishment. You say that there are other, more important issues to be discussed. If you mean there are other issues the government should look into to improve the lives of people rather than concentrating on tobacco and whatever reasons they think people should be steered away from it, I agree. There are other more pressing problems the lawmakers and the government should be worried about. If you are talking about the ‘hype’ created by all the people who are against this law, I disagree. Imprisoning an innocent person is a big deal.
    It seems like good news, that atleast the NC is not shutting out the possibility of improving things. I hope that our MPs take this opportunity to correct this very flawed law.

  3. Sangay says:

    It has always wondered me and questioned myself many a times on the pros and cons of tobacco. I would like to make it very clear here that, I am strictly non-smoker, non-chewer, non-injector and non-inhaler of any kinds of tobacco products. BUT, i strongly feel deep inside me that, TCA is depriving people of their rights. Such stringent and non-sensible act would encourage people to question the capability of our law makers and even our philosophy of GNH, when we are depriving people of their Individual happiness.
    I like the way you think on the TCA. I definitely feel the urgency to revisit the act and define every single “THING” properly [what quantity of carrying tobacco is crime]. Going by current act, [take a situation here: if someone asks a piece of cigarette from a friend and if he is caught than he is given the same punishment as those selling /possessing larger quantity], throwing people possessing even smaller quantity of tobacco besides the bars for 3 years has become a fashion in Bhutan. I think law makers should work really hard on it and make the acts/laws suitable for majority of the people, as pointed by yourself.
    I totally agree with Di that, designating smoking area should be encouraged rather than encouraging “BLACK MARKET” in the country. You are right in saying that different people posses different opinion and it is always hard to come to the consensus on the need and useless-‘ness’ of the TCA. Since the act has already been implement it would be mocking to our law-makers to put it off totally. I would rather suggest re-visiting and framing sensible rules.
    I know, life won’t be easy for people whose routine are bonded by tobacco, thus completely banning in the country is not-advisable. We may encourage the sell of tobacco after imposing huge tax, as nothing comes without cost. The tobacco people would than decide themselves if they have to or not after “cost benefit analysis”.

    Let us build together “Individual Happiness” to achieve ultimate GNH.

  4. Thank you Di and Sangay. I will be posting another piece on the TCA2010 and will try and cover areas of concern you have both shared in here. Rest assured, the aim and objective of law-making remains ‘JUST’ and I can only hope that it is in this light future endeavors will proceed.

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