Thailand’s upcoming general elections on May 14th are giving vape users in the country a glimmer of hope. Currently, possessing a nicotine vape can lead to penalties that range from hefty fines, confiscation of the product, to imprisonment for up to five years. However, advocates of tobacco harm reduction are optimistic that things could change soon.
Since 2014, vaping products have been banned in the country, with severe laws pushing police officers to extort citizens. In 2021, Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, the minister of digital economy and society, expressed the importance of legalizing vapes despite loud opposition from anti-vaping campaigners. Thanakamanusorn, who is also the deputy leader of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), is confident that legalizing vaping products would benefit millions of Thai smokers and even tobacco growers.
However, Anutin Charnvirakul, the deputy prime minister and minister for public health, who leads the Bhumjaithai Party and is a coalition member, continually reiterates the government’s position. He argues that vapes pose health risks and encourages more people to smoke, thus advocating for the ban to stay in place.
As the country prepares for the general elections, there is hope that the outcome will finally bring an end to Thailand’s draconian vape policies. Several prominent parties, including Thanakamanusorn’s PPRP and the Move Forward Party, have announced legalization as part of their election campaign policies.
Asa Saligupta, director of End Cigarette Smoking Thailand (ECST), revealed that there are many anti-vaping and anti-smoking groups in Thailand that are in support of the ban. Despite this, Saligupta is hopeful that the benefits of e-cigarettes will finally be embraced in Thailand. He believes that allowing e-cigarette use, import, and sales will put the country more in line with other countries while providing economic opportunities.
Although the country legalized the cultivation and possession of cannabis in 2022, nicotine vapes remain illegal. Saligupta attributes this to the fact that the medical community has denied the medical benefits of e-cigarettes.
If things go as tobacco harm reductionists would like during the upcoming elections, it could transform one of the worst examples of vape prohibition in the world. There is no doubt that legalization would increase the uptake of vaping products, and it would ultimately protect individuals from law enforcement officials who use the vape ban to extort them.