Despite Thailand's ban on e-cigarettes, they are easily available online. Worse, consumers are subject to heavy lobbying from the vaping industry, which spreads disinformation in its bid to end the ban. The government must put a stop to this dirty business.
The ban on e-cigarettes has been in effect since 2014. The Public Health Ministry says the vapour from e-cigarettes contains nicotine, which is highly addictive and harmful to health. The ban also applies to refills and other vaping equipment with punishment to both vendors and vapers if the law is enforced.
Although e-cigarette lobbyists insist e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco and also help tobacco smokers quit the habit, the World Health Organization (WHO) says otherwise.
According to WHO, e-cigarettes — no matter in what size or design — are basically electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Apart from nicotine, the liquid that is heated to create an aerosol contains flavours and other chemicals that can cause serious health risks.
WHO is particularly concerned with the use of e-cigarettes among youth. Nicotine consumption, it says, affects brain development. Studies also suggest the use of e-cigarettes doubles the chance that minors will start smoking tobacco cigarettes.
The vaping industry’s campaign to attract the young has drawn the attention of public health authorities. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul says the ban is necessary to protect youths because they are the vulnerable targets of the e-cigarette industry.
Citing figures from the National Statistical Office last year, Mr Anutin said that of about 80,000 e-cigarette users in Thailand, more than half are in the 15–24 age group. That was a conservative estimate. The real number of vapers in Thailand might be many times higher.
Dr Vijj Kasemsup, director of Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Centre (TRC), says research around the world shows vaping is linked with many diseases. For example, it increases the risk of lung disorder and heart disease as well as blood vessel contraction. Vaping also affects brain development, dental and oral health.
Apart from causing nicotine dependence, the vapour that contains nicotine also exposes other people to health risks, particularly pregnant women, as it may affect the development of the foetus, warns the WHO.
Public Health authorities are also worried about pods, a new-generation, disposable e-cigarette that targets “beginners”, meaning youth and young adults. The pod does not require battery charging or e-liquid refills. Some brands also contain a high level of nicotine to maintain the addiction.
Despite WHO’s confirmation of the health risks, e-cigarette backers continue to call for an end to the ban.
A group of physicians led by Dr Somkiat Wattanasirichaikul, chairman of the Network of Health Professions for No-Smoking Society, last month petitioned the House committees on ethics and public health against Dr Ekkapob Pianpises, a Move Forward Party MP, for allegedly disseminating false information supporting e-cigarettes, and allegedly attacking physicians and academics who support the ban.
Worse, the industry’s call for legalised vaping has supporters in the government. Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn backs their efforts, despite it contravening the Public Health Ministry’s policy in favour of the ban.
Mr Chaiwut said legalising e-cigarettes would enable the country to tax their sales and would provide a safer option for those unable to quit smoking regular cigarettes.
The industry doesn’t have to sell in the open, thanks to e-commerce. A study on online e-cigarette marketing by Kanitha Thaikla, of the Health Science Research Institute at Chiang Mai University, shows that nearly 400 online vendors regularly bombard consumers with vaping promotions.
The increasing popularity of e-cigarettes as a lifestyle product is driving attempts by big business to revoke the vaping ban. By targeting their aggressive marketing at youth and young adults, the companies are not only acting illegally, but unethically.
Under the 2017 constitution, the government must ensure citizens of their basic rights to good health and provide an effective public healthcare system that includes disease prevention and control. E-cigarettes are the gateway to smoking for non-smokers.
Banning e-cigarettes alone is not enough; the government must also enforce the law. However, the government must exercise caution as to how the law is enforced. Vapers must be treated for nicotine dependence, not arrested.
Unless these steps are taken, the country’s hard-won anti-smoking success that protects the young and keeps public places free of nicotine in the air will quickly vanish.