Bhutan lifts tobacco ban amid coronavirus measures | News

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The remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, known to embrace gross national happiness and ban television until 1999, has now taken the unusual step of rescinding the ban on the sale of tobacco, blaming the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes even though smoking is considered a sin in the predominantly Buddhist country, where an anti-smoking law was first passed in 1729 and where the plant is believed to have grown from the blood of a demon.

The country of around 750,000 people banned the sale, manufacture and distribution of tobacco in 2010, but allowed smokers to import controlled amounts of tobacco products after paying high duties and taxes – which created a market flourishing black for cigarettes smuggled from India.

When Bhutan closed its border with India earlier this year due to the pandemic – India has more than three million confirmed cases, while Bhutan has less than 200 – over-the-counter tobacco prices quadrupled as traffickers found it more difficult to enter the country. .

Some continued to sneak in and on August 12 a Bhutanese worker handling goods from India tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the border town of Phuentsholing.

This prompted the government of Prime Minister Lotay Tshering to rethink, a qualified doctor who still practices on weekends.

His administration lifted the 10-year tobacco ban to dampen demand for contraband cigarettes and, in theory, reduce the risk of cross-border contagion.

Tshering insists that the reversal is temporary.

‘Essential product’

The move allows smokers to purchase tobacco products from state-owned duty-free outlets and adds them to the list of essentials available amid the country’s pandemic lockdown.

The government further argued that keeping him away from those who are addicted and stuck inside could lead to tensions at home.

At a duty free shop in the capital, Thimphu, branch manager Dechen Dema said she receives around 1,000 calls a day and works 8 a.m. to midnight to fill orders.

“We get so many desperate calls and don’t even have time to eat,” Dema told AFP news agency.

Longtime smoker Regyal Chophel, 35, who works for national media, was relieved to have his fix.

“The old habits died and I was getting pretty desperate. I am grateful to the government for making this arrangement, ”he said.

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