Tobacco harm reduction advocates remain optimistic that Thailand will legalize e-cigarettes, despite vocal opposition from the country’s health minister.
On April 26, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he opposes legalization of vapor products in the country, citing concern about underage consumption and the plight of tobacco farmers.
Asa Saligupta, director of ENDS Cigarette Smoke Thailand (ECST), suggested Charnvirakul was playing politics. “After his abysmal handling of the pandemic, among other things, he could easily lose his seat at Thailand’s upcoming general election. He’s simply panicking but has completely underestimated the wide support for legalizing and regulating vaping,” said Saligupta.
With draft legislation to legalize e-cigarettes currently before a sub-committee, the ECST director remains confident that the vaping bill will be passed by Thailand’s parliament this year.
“The Thai government can and will regulate safer nicotine products regardless of what one minister says,” said Saligupta. “Let’s not forget that Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, government officials and public health experts have all been key to finally confronting Thailand’s failed tobacco control policies,” he says.
According to Saligupta, Thailand’s harsh ban and penalties on vape imports and sales have failed.
“Smoking continues to kill about 50,000 Thai people each and every year. Too many smokers have been stuck with cigarettes or are forced onto the black market for vapes where there’s no control over the purchase age or product safety standards. An effective public health minister would not accept this dire situation, let alone support it,” he says.
ECST believes it’s no surprise the minister made his anti-vaping statement to ThaiHealth board members. Its senior adviser, Prakit Vathesatogkit, recently received the Dr Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize by the World Health Organization for his work against tobacco. He has also been a high-profile voice against legalizing vaping.
“ThaiHealth along with some local conservative health voices continue to publicly scaremonger, conveniently ignoring the growing tobacco harm reduction success globally,” said Saligupta. “By joining the minority, Thailand’s Public Health Minister is now among an increasingly isolated crowd who continue to follow the WHO’s discredited anti-vape agenda,” he says.
According to Saligupta, nearly 70 countries have now adopted regulatory frameworks on safer nicotine products despite the WHO position, leading to dramatic declines in their overall smoking rates. The Philippines and Malaysia are also set to legalize vaping.
“Thankfully the Thai government remains on the right side of the debate,” he said. “Regulating will give consumers better protection, encourage more smokes to quit deadly cigarettes, and ensure we have much better control over youth vaping with a strict purchase age,” he says.