Tobacco Industry Country Profile - Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan is nestled between two neighboring giants: China to the north and India to the South. It is a landlocked Himalayan nation with a population of 0.83 million. Most Bhutanese still live in villages in an extended family system or maintain strong links with their rural families. The country provides free education and health care to all its citizens, leading to a life expectancy at birth of 70 years and a literacy rate of 71.4%. The Country reports a Human Development Index of 0.612, which puts the country in the medium human development category with a GDP per capita of USD 3,438.10.The main sources of revenue are agriculture, cottage industries, tourism, hydroelectricity and small scale industries such as cement plants, calcium and carbide, steel and ferrosilicon and also wood based industries.
Bhutan has implemented a comprehensive ban on sale of tobacco products (both smoked and smokeless forms) since 2004 and enacted smoke-free provisions in 2005 (Image 2). These tobacco control initiatives were further strengthened through the enactment of the Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2010, which provides legal framework for the implementation of tobacco control policies and prohibits cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of tobacco products within Bhutan. By the time the National Assembly resolved for a nationwide ban, sale of tobacco was already banned in 18 out of 20 districts and gradually the remaining districts too banned the sale of tobacco and tobacco products.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) mandates all parties to seek comprehensive ban on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship. Since the ratification of WHO Convention in 2004, the Royal Government of Bhutan has taken a series of pioneering steps to control indiscriminate use and distribution of tobacco in the country. It is the first and the only country up to date (as of in 2020) in the world to ban tobacco trade. Sections 18 and 19 of Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2010 ban all forms of advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products including scenes depicting smoking in domestic production of video, cultural show and programmes.
Tobacco Use in Bhutan
The import of tobacco products for personal consumption after payment of sale tax and customs duty is allowed in Bhutan. National Survey for non-communicable disease risk factors and mental health in Bhutan in 2014, using WHO STEPS approach, reveals that 9.5% of adults aged 18-39 and 3.5% of adults aged 40-69 smoke. The prevalence of smokeless tobacco among adults aged 18-39 was 20.3% and among adults aged 40-60 it was 18.7%. The prevalence of adult tobacco use has remained same consistently over the years. However, a more disturbing trend noted is the rising prevalence of cigarette smoking and smokeless tobacco use among high school students, over the years.
The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) conducted in 2014, report shows that there is a drastic increase in the prevalence of tobacco use both boys and girls from 28.6% in 2006 to 41.2% in 2013 and among the girls 12.4% in 2006 to 25.5% in 2013. The significant increase is predominantly because of increase in prevalence of current smokeless tobacco use among the boys from 14.5% in 2006 to 27.2% in 2013 and girls from 6% in 2006 to 19% in 2013.
Burden of Tobacco in Bhutan
Tobacco consumption remains one of the public concerns in Bhutan today. Smokers have an increased risk of cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease. It has been estimated that smokers of one to two packs of cigarettes a day lose between 4.4 to 6.8 years of life. Every year in Bhutan, more than 208 of its people are killed by tobacco-related disease. Still, more than 560 children aged between 10-14 years and 36,130 adults aged 15 years and above continue to use tobacco each day. Therefore, Ministry of Health in collaboration with other stakeholders, such as Ministry of Education, Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority, Drugs Regulatory Authority, Department of Revenue and Customs and Royal Bhutan Police, is developing a national awareness programme on harms of use of tobacco and tobacco related products.
Tobacco Industry in Bhutan
Bhutan has banned the tobacco cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of tobacco products within the country since 2004. According to local tobacco control advocates, Bhutan was never an interest for the multinational tobacco companies due to its small population and religious background discouraging tobacco use. Thus, Bhutan does not have a formal Tobacco Industry as of 2020. The users are allowed to import tobacco and tobacco products for personal consumption through an authorised port of entry by paying sale tax and customs duty. The tobacco products can only be imported for personal consumption and selling or exchanging with other goods and services is not allowed.
However, there is an illicit tobacco trade, potentially undermining the effect of the nation-wide ban. Please visit the page on Illicit Tobacco Trade in Bhutan for more information.
Imports from India are levied a 100% sales tax, and those from countries other than India are levied a 100 % sales tax and 100 % customs duty. The maximum quantity allowed per month per person is 800 sticks of cigarettes, 1,200 sticks of bidis, 150 pieces of cigar, and 750 grams of tobacco and tobacco-related products. Documents required at the time of declaration are ID card, passport, voter card, or any other relevant document issued by his/her country and proof of purchase. The receipt issued is valid for one month. The receipt must be produced when required as proof of tax and duty paid. Any person 18 years and younger is not allowed to import tobacco products.
- National Statistical Bureau. Key Indicators, March 2013, accessed Feb 2020
- National Council of Bhutan. Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan 2004, 6th June 2004, accessed February 2020
- PS Tshering. Despite harsh rules, public smoking prevails, BBS, 05 April 2017, accessed February 2020
- Ministry of Health 2019,Tobacco Dependence Cessation Program, 2019, accessed February 2020,
- S Ugan. Bhutan: the world’s most advanced tobacco control nation?, Tobacco Control 2003;12:431–433, accessed February 2020