Will the tobacco ban work this time?

The ban on tobacco has resurfaced again from its dormancy. While it is for everyone to guess whether it will be successful this time round, one thing is certain; the sellers have laughed their way to the bank all the while.

The ban succeeded in inflating the price of tobacco products, but achieved little in restricting its inflow. Tobacco has been smuggled into the country in myriad of ways, some ingenious. And the ban could not match the ingenu­ity of the people. There is no assurance that the same thing will not happen again.

The law-makers have at­tributed the failure to im­proper implementation. But the truth might be that the ban itself was lopsided. It is not il­legal for people to use tobacco products; only selling is an offence. This elicited failure.

One need not be an econo­mist to see the marketability of an item dictated by its de­mand It is not the sellers who force people to buy but the buyers who persuade them to sell. As long as demand exists, sellers may go to any length to sell it. Therefore, the prison penalty, which is meant to intimidate people, may not be the ultimate solution. At any rate, three to five- year prison term seems a little irrational considering the gravity of the crime.

It appears as though we, in Bhutan, are short of reasons to send people to prison. If the implementation should happen as resolved, a time will come when our prisons will be filled to the limit. There will be a dire need to build more pris­ons making the government bear greater financial implica­tion than the ban itself.

Tobacco is a big killer. No one can argue that. But it is for an individual to decide wheth­er one should use it or not. If people wish to smoke even after realizing it is injurious to their health, so be it. Everyone has the right to compass his own end. It looks like the ban infringes into the personal choice of the people.

If tobacco should be banned because it is injurious to health, what about the vehicle fumes that we inhale more abundantly everyday? Should we put a ban on the use of vehicles? Should we censor every other bad thing that we see before us?

It is time we realize that putting a ban on something is not the solution. If the past is anything to learn from, it is clear that such restrictions and censorships have been more like toothless tigers, impotent but tiger all the same. What has happened to the plastic ban that we took pride in? Is it still in force? We can still see plenty of plastics around.

There are plenty of other things that should keep us oc­cupied. There are schools and hospitals to be built; roads and bridges to be made; poor and the jobless to be helped; and the environment and other areas to be cared for. Amid all these, one cannot fully fathom what necessitates the ban­ning of a thing as mundane as tobacco. Everyone knows that the ban on tobacco failed once before. So why waste time and energy all over again? No matter how genuinely we are concerned about the benefits of our people, if things are not dealt with the right approach failure becomes inevitable.Which place have we heard about where people do not use tobacco?

If we can make our coun­try completely tobacco-free, that is good. But that is just a wishful thinking. The idea itself sounds preposterous. Therefore, trying out some­thing pragmatic like imposing higher taxes may prove more propitious.

The agencies could increase the taxes to 200 percent, or even 300 percent. This will naturally cut down the num­ber of users as many would not want to squander their income on something that brings little good in the end, and at the same time would at least give something to the government’s coffers.

We could find new and bet­ter ways to educate the people about the ills of abusing to­bacco, so that people willingly discontinue the habit without any imposition. Or else, the ban on tobacco will be nothing more than an attempt to attain the unattainable

By SonamPalden (BhutanObserver)

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