Background: Recently, cigarette neo-prohibitionists have argued that a cigarette ban can be obtained from a de-facto phase-out of cigarettes based on a combination of effective anti-tobacco regulations and high taxes in conjunction with aggressive application of nicotine replacement therapies. The purpose of this study was to ascertain whether these claims were valid in Bhutan, which enacted a national cigarette sales prohibition law in 2004. Did Bhutan from 2004 to 2009 eliminate or nearly eliminate cigarette consumption and avoid a significant cigarette black market and smuggling?
Methods: This study is a historical, qualitative, descriptive statistical, and archival content overview from 2004 to 2009 of smoking prevalence rates and smuggling and black market trends subsequent to the enactment of the Bhutan Penal Code Act of 2004.
Results: For adults in Bhutan, tobacco prevalence rates are fairly low compared with other nations but in 2008 remained a serious health issue for those who consumed cigarettes. For minors, tobacco consumption and second hand smoke exposure in 2008 was a significant health issue. In addition, the best available evidence indicates that illegal tobacco smuggling including black market sales due to the sales ban in Bhutan remains robust.
Conclusions: So far, in Bhutan, cigarette neo-prohibitionist arguments that stringent anti-tobacco tax and regulatory approaches including a sales prohibition will induce tobacco consumption to cease or nearly cease has not occurred. In addition, the best scientific evidence indicates that a harm reduction-oriented nicotine replacement therapy approach will not be entirely effective. The results of this study provide an important lesson learned for health practitioners and advocates considering or advocating, albeit a gradual, but total cigarette ban as public policy.
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