Friday, June 10, 2011

In Support Of The Tobacco Control Act: Part I

For quite sometime now, I have been aghast at the continuing protestations against the passage and the enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act. I know that no single law has ever found complete acceptance anywhere else in the world. There will always be those who will see things differently - either as a result of their ignorance or, lack of an intelligent understanding of the real issues involved or, in some cases, because of self interest.

The enactment and enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act does not cause any industrial disruption thereby causing loss of jobs and income to the people of Bhutan. And, no one may dispute that the premise and the principal behind introducing a law is because there is a need for it.

So then why is the government’s endeavor to curtail the use and consumption of a substance that can cause harm to the consumers, as well as to none consumers, being met with such organized and orchestrated resistance from the supposedly educated lot of the Bhutanese people? Is it borne out of a genuine concern for Bhutan and the Bhutanese people? Or is there something more sinister and evil at work - that which is designed to bring about the failure of a genuinely progressive and courageous piece of legislation?

I am seriously worried. In the aftermath of the awakening of a sense of trepidation provoked by the incessant propaganda assault unleashed by these faceless ravagers of the void, there is a real danger that a perfectly good and useful law may yet stand to be nullified and rendered ineffectual. The cancerous growth and spread of the malice propagated by theses doomsday soothsayers has the potential to derail a genuine attempt on the part of the government to get serious about meaningful governance. Even worst, there is now a concerted attempt to suggest that the views of this minuscule number of detractors represent the views of the mainstream Bhutanese.

Therefore, it is important to remind the government, the law makers, the judiciary and the people of Bhutan that these voices of dissent uttered from behind the cloak of anonymity in the social media of the World Wide Web do not represent the national view. The reason is simple. This negligible and insignificant number of people who are hell bent on spreading misinformation - number only a few hundred who dwell in the urban centers with internet access. The larger of the population is in the rural villages without any internet access and thus, without the means or the expertise to express their views. But that does not mean that this country can be allowed to be intimidated and coerced into submission by a minority group simply because the silent, unspeaking majority is not internet savvy.

Agreed that even the minority has the right to voice their views - irrespective of whether those views are educated or otherwise. They have that right. However, to go on and on and on, as if their views alone mattered and, in the process subject the majority of us to this barrage of bunkum has got to stop at some point. There is a limit to how much we can tolerate. There is a need for some of us to counter and oppose those who choose to attempt to scuttle a law that is well intended, necessary and RIGHT ON TRACK!

The detractors of the Act offer two primary arguments on the grounds of which they oppose the Act: (a) that it infringes on the liberty and the rights of the individual and, (b) that the law is too draconian.

Since the advent of democracy in this country, too much has been spoken and written by too many about liberty and the right of the individual. But most seem to miss a very simple truth: that a certain amount of government control is essential, even imperative, if liberty and freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution is to be prevented from cannibalizing itself. The only way to guarantee the perpetuation of the right of the individual and liberty of the self is to ensure that those rights are not allowed to be abused. Because, when abuse happens, curtailment will follow. Thus, pre-empting abuse through legislative measures is another form of protecting the individual right and freedom.

The Tobacco Control Act does not ban the consumption of tobacco - meaning that it does not infringe on the individual right or freedom. What it does is require the users to be more responsible in the exercise of their rights and freedom. It requires the consumers of tobacco products to behave responsibly towards those who do not share their inclinations.

While every Bhutanese citizen can stake a claim to our individual right and freedom as our God-given birthright, each of us has the responsibility to ensure that in the exercise of those rights, we do not cause harm and discomfiture to others around us. With right come responsibility and when one fails to be responsible, that right becomes a hindrance and an obstacle and, thus, it can justly be restricted.

……………. To be continued


  1. Aue Yeshi,
    You surely seem to make a point here.

    Like you, I am also a pro TCA2010. the intention of act are noble. No doubt.

    but I personally feel that the penalty clause it contained are bit harsh.

    It may be because of my idiocy, but i still feel very funny when a person is being sent to jail for smuggling a meager tobacco product worth Nu 90/-

    its just my opinion. and

  2. I am truly saddened to read this post, because I have always enjoyed reading your previous posts, and make it a point to not miss any new entry.
    It is unfortunate that you think the voices against the Act is motivated by evil.
    "Faceless" you say. But I know the names, addresses, workplaces, and yes, faces of most of the people who are vocal against the TCA. If you look at the facebook page, you will find the people voicing their concerns do have a face. They are open about who they are and why they think this law is bad.
    I have a face. My name is Dipika Chhetri, and I am one of those who speak against the act.
    I am not motivated by sinister evil.
    My motivation is the desire to participate in the lawmaking of our country, and try to see that we are going ahead in the right path.
    And I believe that the tobacco Control Act is wrong.
    I agree with you- " a certain amount of government control is essential, even imperative, if liberty and freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution is to be prevented from cannibalizing itself."
    The keyword here would be 'certain amount'.
    I feel that the TCA crosses the 'certain amount'.
    Where do we draw the line between what the government should control and what should still remain a personal right?
    I feel that an individual must retain his or her rights unless they harm another person.
    Tobacco does not harm another person, and that is a fact, which cannot be changed, no matter how hard the anti tobacco campaigners say to the contrary.
    You as a non smoker have every right in your own space, or in public space, to ask a smoker to refrain from smoking. I am not against the rule to ban smoking at public places, in presence of children, etc.
    But the question here is not really about smoking/chewing tobacco (I really must say, can you honestly say that someone chewing tobacco in your presence affects you in any way? And yet a man has been imprisoned for 3 years because he chews tobacco)
    "The Tobacco Control Act does not ban the consumption of tobacco - meaning that it does not infringe on the individual right or freedom. What it does is require the users to be more responsible in the exercise of their rights and freedom. It requires the consumers of tobacco products to behave responsibly towards those who do not share their inclinations."
    I do not agree.
    How has a person who has brought tobacco into Phuentsholing without paying tax (tax, i must point out, intended to curtail the use of tobacco, by this questionable law)not behaved responsibly toward a non user.
    Which person in this country has been brought to justice by the imprisonment of a man who sneaked in a small amount of tobacco?
    A person in Bhutan can smoke/chew tobacco legally only if he/she goes to the border every month, pays tax and completes paperwork, and rations the product.
    Can you say that this is freedom?
    You should be free to eat as much as you want, even if the government feels that eating too much will make you obese, and could lead to diseases that would kill you.
    What if the government makes a law to control how much you eat? You can still eat, but if you want to eat more than a normal person does, you must go to the border pick up your ration every month.
    Would you say this is freedom?

  3. None of the Anti TCA campaigners want a country with no laws.
    What we are all asking is, how much can the law dictate what you do in your personal life?
    The Tobacco Act sets precedence.
    If you feel that all the arguments for the Act make sense, then by the same arguments we should be banning cars- they pollute- harming people other than the drivers- and they cause accidents- a seven year old boy was run over yesterday- it seems even more important to ban cars- there is no way they can be used 100 per cent safely. And mobile Phones- according to new science, they kill as well. And if my mobile phone radiations can kill me, and you stand close to me all the time, it must kill you, too. We must ban all the useless cholesterol products, and sugar.
    The question is how far can we go?
    The Tobacco control act, dictating how much a person can smoke/chew, making it near impossible for a person to obtain products to indulge in a personal vice, (and encouraging black market, which is booming like never before) and putting people into jail for 3 years, essentially equating them with rapists, is wrong.
    And while 'majority' is a popular argument from the pro TCA people, it really does not change the fact that imprisoning a person for 3 years for 'smuggling' a tiny amount of tobacco is unfair, even if everyone in the country goes blue in the face defending it.
    And also, the so called 'minority' on the internet may be voicing their concerns, they do not claim to know what the 'silent majority' think. On the other hand, those who are Pro TCA assume that they know that TCA is what they want- without having asked them in the first place.
    “Is it borne out of a genuine concern for Bhutan and the Bhutanese people?" you ask about the anti TCA campaign.
    I ask the same about the TCA.
    Is it borne out of a genuine concern for Bhutan and the Bhutanese people?
    Who has benifitted from this Act? Smoking may cause cancer, but every smoker knows this, thanks to the label on their cigarettes that say "smoking is injurious to health". And if someone wants to harm his own health, who else has the right to stop him? Isn’t every fat person who doesn’t exercise doing the same?
    Smoking may harm passive smokers, but they can always move away, or ask the smoker to move away. They have this right.
    The TCA, meanwhile, has put ordinary poeple who are not criminals, behind bars, affecting their families. How do we put this right?
    Which is the truer evil, then?
    Smoking, or the TCA?

  4. Hi Kuenzang & di

    Thank you for your comments. I am not going to defend myself ... I will post the balance of my article slit into 2-3 parts - over the next few days as I get time.

    In the mean time, I encourage others to voice their opinion too. I do not mind if the opinions expressed are contrary to my own. Conformity is not the rule.

  5. Dear Yeshey,
    I follow the Facebook Group closely and know that all the active members have names and faces- Depika is right. The Group has a very sound vision, only sometimes some members lose focus and post pictures of themselves smoking and even discuss about going to Clocktower square for group smoking.
    But their being minority is not something to be used against them, they are as educated as MPs, over 2000 of them voice against some 50 MPs' decision, what do you say?
    I personally am so confused with the Act and rules that are drawn from it, now and then. All i wish for is the freedom of those prisoners- SOON!

  6. Sir, I don't see any Government. It is our people (majority as represented through the parliament) who have decided that we want this kind of law to tackle the Tobacco problem, which is a social evil. Btw, I was myself a smoker for ten years. I quit smoking in 2005. Today, I am a free, healthy and a happy man.

  7. Di...I believe it is not an issue of what “Tobacco” does. People got jailed for breaking a law, not for what tobacco “does”. Anyways, once a law is in place, we as citizens must abide by it. Emotions cannot override the law. Those who feel strongly about this Act should work towards calling for an amendment following the due process to seek an amendment. Of course I too feel badly that people have got multiple years of imprisonment for a hundred bucks or so, but that’s the way the law is. The law may seem stringent now, but I think the long term effects will be good especially for the young now and the future generations. And I understand the voices in various forums are just as loud, if not louder than the Facebook, and these forums don’t have faces but just nicks. Where individual rights is concerned, this law helps both smokes and non-smokers to enjoy their rights, and the best part is that this Act has to a certain extent already curbed many smokers. Many seem to have welcomed TCAA mainly because it prevents smoking without really going into the details. Now, it would be wonderful if a similar if not a more stringent law could be passed to deal with drug peddlers.

    Looking forward to the continuation of your article which am sure will help clear further cowebs. Sonam.

  8. I sincerely feel that laws like TCA are very much a necessary in todays fast changing world.

    Law may seem stringent but people have become smart and they know how to play with it.

    there are also concepts like "kill one to Frighten hundreds"

    With TCA, are we really frightening hundreds when we have virtually killed not one but many already?

    so the contention here is, even the law needs to be communicated thoroughly irrespective of minor faceless urbanity or voiceless, big face rural majority.

    Again this is my Opinion.

  9. yeshey,

    your articles are spot on. they have touched the core issues that most people have ignored or more likely not been able to see, as it is next to nigh impossible for most of us to see beyond our selfish interests.

    this govt has proved that they will not be a populist govt - a major pitfall in a democratic system. Instead they will do what is necessary even if it means that they may lose the next elections.

    Secondly, this group that rants on online forums will have us believe that the majority of bhutanese oppose the Act. They may rant as we have freedom of expression. But they are not the majority and unfortunately in a democracy, majority counts. Here the govt is in the right and in the majority.

    Those who oppose the act are wrong and also in the minority.They are also vociferous and articulate but right and majority must prevail if we are to be a true democracy.