The National Council today debated on the Amendment Bill to the Tobacco Control Act 2010. The Health Minister presented the Amendment Bill and responded to questions raised by a few Councillors.
I raised two questions.
i. Had the Government carried out any study to understand the legislative impact of the Tobacco Control Act 2010? Reduction in tobacco users? Control over smuggling or black marketeering?
The response was that no study had been conducted which would have helped everyone understand how it may have helped in reducing tobacco consumption and also decreased in smuggling or black marketeering. Instead reference to a study pertaining to years before the enactment of the Tobacco Control Act 2010 was made which although informative did not carry too much relevance.
ii. What was the Government planning on doing about those people in prison for not necessarily ‘smuggling’ but exceeding the permissible limits?
The response was that the present proposed amendments were targeted towards helping solve similar complications but regarding people already in prison, it was beyond the powers of the Government and that there will arise a solution he said.
The debate following that basically revolved around sections 11 (b) & (c). Four separate motions were moved and voted.
(a) Accept changes endorsed by the National Assembly (basically adding up to the same essence of the earlier clauses) – 7 votes
(b) Delete both sections 11 (b) & (c) translating into lifting of the ban – 11 votes
(c) Accept changes endorsed by the National Assembly like in the case of (a) and INCREASE permissible quantity – 9 votes
(d) Accept changes endorsed by the National Assembly like the case of (a) and DECREASE penalty (lower than fourth degree penalty) – 9 votes
The voting required 13 votes for a clear decision as per the Rule of Procedures of the National Council, calculated on the number of members present. It was then decided that members with differing view points as expressed would meet and work on a common motion to be presented on Monday (January 16, 2012) to be voted on.
The debate was almost a re-run of the 1st debate when it was still the Tobacco Control Bill where the House stood divided except for a few more members who have now taken a more balanced look at it today. While some of us referred to proportionality of offense and penalty, practical problems of implementation, lack of impact so far, a few remain fixated on culture and religious reasons.
14 members met this evening to discuss the differences as directed by the Chairperson. The discussion was chaired by the Chair of the Legislative Committee Honourable Kuenlay Tshering. The meeting concluded with most members in favour of ‘deleting’ sections 11 (b) & (c). He will present the motion to the House on Monday to vote and conclude discussions.
The discussion on the amendment is far from over. Should the National Council agree to delete sections 11 (b) & (c), meaning lifting the ban on tobacco, it will then have to go back to the National Assembly and find support. As an urgent bill it will also have to clear both Houses and therefore, would probably have to go to the Joint Sitting. The National Council’s stand will be its original stand once again.
Since the 4 separate motions were put to vote one after the other, I supported motion (b) and then (d) and thinking about it now I think I may support motion (c) too now.