Lawmakers in Bhutan are drafting rules to promote greater competition in the distribution of tobacco products, reports Kuensel.
Currently, the country has only one tobacco distributor—Bhutan Duty-Free Limited (BDFL)—according to Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma. “We cannot allow only BDFL to be the sole distributor because the aim is to stop illegal trade and at the same time make tobacco and tobacco products available,” he said.
The Tobacco Control Rules and Regulations (TCRR) 2021 would create “a good distributor wholesale system” in Bhutan, Sharma noted.
The rules are expected to be ready by December, according to Ugyen Tshering, the officiating director general of the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA).
He said that the revision of TCRR was completed and was awaiting the endorsement from the BNCA board to be submitted to the Cabinet.
As interim measures, the government has allowed micro-license holders, such as paan shops and grocery shops, to import tobacco products to meet the growing demand.
With the limited supply of tobacco and tobacco products from BDFL, the paan shops had resorted to the black market.
Bhutan recently moved to lift a longstanding ban on the sale tobacco products. By legalizing tobacco, legislators hope to help check the spread of Covid-19, which they believe has been worsened by the continuous smuggling of tobacco products through Bhutan’s porous southern border.
The manufacture of tobacco products remains illegal, however—as does public smoking.
Tshering said that if someone was caught smoking in a public place—defined as any place with more than two persons—that person would be subject to a BTN500 ($6.77) fine.
Bhutan banned tobacco sales in December 2004. Tobacco Reporter was the first to report from the world’s only officially smoke-free nation.