Bhutan Suspends Tobacco Ban

    Photo: Taco Tuinstra

    Bhutan has temporarily reversed a ban on the sale of tobacco, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

    The Himalayan kingdom prohibited the sale, manufacture and distribution of tobacco more than a decade ago but allowed smokers to import controlled amounts of tobacco products after paying hefty duties and taxes.

    Smoking is considered a sin in the mostly Buddhist country, where a tobacco control law was first passed in 1729 and the tobacco plant is believed to have grown from the blood of a demoness.

    The tobacco ban spawned a thriving black market for cigarettes smuggled over the border from India.

    When Bhutan closed its frontier with India earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, under-the-counter tobacco prices soared fourfold as the traffickers found it harder to get into the country.

    To temper demand for the smuggled cigarettes and, in theory, lessen the risk of cross-border contagion, Bhutan decided to suspend its tobacco ban. The decision allows smokers to buy tobacco products from state-owned duty-free outlets for the duration of the pandemic.

    Bhutan banned tobacco sales in December 2004. Soon after, Tobacco Reporter visited the Himalayan kingdom to report from the world’s first officially smoke-free nation.