Tobacco Harm Reduction Network (Thailand)

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Why vaping is illegal in Thailand but shouldn’t be

by VORANAI VANIJAKA December 25, 2020  in Current Affairs

Like prostitution, vaping in Thailand is illegal but also very common. People vape in the open everywhere, just like prostitution is in the open everywhere.

These are two of the too many examples of how the law, its interpretation and execution, falls in the category of senselessness.

Vaping is worse than sedition. 

In Thailand, e-cigarettes, e-baraku, and juice refills have been banned since 2014. Other countries even issue a warning to their citizens who plan to travel to Thailand: possession of an e-cigarette can get you up to 10 years of prison time and 30,000 baht fine.

Even Article 116, the Sedition Law, gets you up to seven years imprisonment. That’s right, vaping is more dangerous than inciting a rebellion against the state.

Health isn’t the argument. 

Ask the e-cigarette industry, and they’ll cite a long list of scientific evidence to prove that vaping is harmless to health. Ask the anti-vaping organizations, and they’ll also cite a long list of scientific evidence to prove that vaping is harmful to health.

But if we accept that nicotine is harmful no matter what, still, without sucking burning paper and tobacco directly into your lung, vaping is less toxic than any form of tobacco smoking.

This September 2019 article by ASH UK (Action on Smoking and Health, United Kingdom) said that vaping is harmful but less toxic than smoking, while it’s also a popular aid for quitting smoking.

Therefore, the argument for banning vaping because it’s dangerous to health just doesn’t fly, because then, why not ban cigarette smoking? It’s far more dangerous.

Let’s look at the numbers. 

In an article published by the Bangkok Post in September 2019, pulmonologist Dr. Suwannapa Pakotiprapa said Thailand’s year-on-year growth rate of the illegal e-cigarette market is around 100% over the past three years.

This put the market’s value at three to six billion baht, or around 5% of the entire tobacco industry.

According to the Smoking and Drinking Behavior Survey 2017, National Statistic Office of Thailand, there are over 10.7 million cigarette smokers in Thailand or around 19.1% of the entire population. It’s also estimated that there are 18 million second-hand smokers.

Of the smokers, approximately 71,000 people die per year from smoking-related illnesses. Of the second-hand smokers, around 7,000 people die per year. The health industry spends between 40 to 50 billion baht per year to take care of those suffering from smoking-related illnesses.

The argument is obvious. 

By legalizing vaping, the state would earn millions in tax revenue. It would open up the private sector and encourage competition.

There will be fewer cigarette smokers because vaping has proven a popular quitting aid. So it’s not just a matter of baht and satang. It’s also for better health.

Obviously, not smoking or vaping entirely is the best for health. But it ought to be a matter of personal choice. Otherwise, we should also ban cigarettes, alcohol, and, given the pollution, ban breathing.

But do you know why vaping is illegal?  

The Tobacco Authority of Thailand is the sole legal entity permitted to produce tobacco products in the kingdom. Its 2017 revenue was nearly 70 billion baht. It used to be called Thailand Tobacco Monopoly until a name change in 2018 because, you know, the word “monopoly” is too obvious.

Last year, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said that he would keep the ban on e-cigarettes. He reasoned that the government can’t just consider the economic aspect but must care for the people’s health, and the vaping-related illnesses would further burden the country’s healthcare budget.

What about smoking-related illnesses? Well, it’s okay because it’s a state monopoly that earns nearly 70 billion baht to the state.

So we circle back to the senseless reality in which we live. 

The government lets people smoke more harmful substances. Ban less toxic substances that are also a popular quitting aid of cigarette smoking. Meanwhile, everywhere people both smoke and vape.

Hence, the issue really isn’t smoking or vaping. Instead, can we just have laws that make sense?

Apparently, we can’t because if Thailand legalizes vaping, that will cut into a state monopoly’s profitability.

Health isn’t the issue. Money is.


Voranai Vanijaka

Voranai Vanijaka is a political and social commentator. He’s the recipient of the 2010 Ayumongkol Sonakul Award for his Sunday column, previously in the Bangkok Post Newspaper. He teaches Political Communication and Global Media Industries at Thammasart University and Public Speaking at Webster University. He’s been published in Australia’s Griffith Review, appeared on BBC and ABC, and is a speaker at various forums around the region. He founded Thisrupt.

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