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More smoke than light in e-cigarette row

Debate over health benefits rages as cops crack down

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Electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, are back in the public eye following a series of police crackdowns. E-cigarettes are illegal under Thai law.

The Commerce Ministry law bans the production, import, sale and possession, of e-cigarettes.

Users are demanding they be removed from the list of banned items. Public health personnel, however, are adamant they should remain prohibited.

The debate comes amid some public confusion as to whether the law is being applied evenly. Some traders openly sell e-cigarettes and associated paraphernalia, and some users are open about smoking them in public.

Meanwhile, at least five police crackdowns on e-cigarettes took place last week in Pathum Thani, Pattaya and Samut Songkhram. One of the crackdowns in Pattaya involved a net idol who was arrested for possession of a device.

Deputy police spokesman Pol Col Krissana Pattanacharoen warned those who import e-cigarettes into the country could face up to 10 years in prison and a hefty fine. Anyone caught selling e-cigarettes or is found in possession of them could face a 5-year maximum jail term.

E-cigarettes use battery power to heat an element to disperse a solution of chemical substances including glycerine, flavouring and usually nicotine, resulting in an aerosol that can be inhaled by the user.

The Department of Disease Control (DDC) and anti-tobacco networks insist e-cigarettes are much more hazardous to health than tobacco cigarettes. Previous studies have detected formaldehyde, used to preserve corpses, in the vapour ofnsome e-cigarettes.

They say that there is little evidence that the devices can help tobacco smokers quit as advocates claim.

But e-cigarette supporters have raised a 2015 report commissioned by the NHS in Britain to fight for legalisation of the device.

The report titled "E-cigarettes: an evidence update" says best estimates show e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful to health than normal cigarettes, and when supported by a smoking cessation service, help most smokers quit tobacco altogether.

It said a high level of formaldehyde was found when e-liquid was overheated to levels unpleasant to e-cigarette users, but there is no indication e-cigarette users are exposed to dangerous levels of it.

"All we want is the right to choose a better alternative to traditional tobacco," said Maris Karanyawat, representative of an e-cigarette users network, whose campaign on change.org calling for an end to the ban on e-cigarettes has gathered over 25,000 supporters.

Mr Maris believes putting e-cigarettes in the restricted category rather than banning them outright will do more good than harm.

He said the main benefit of e-cigarettes, which he claimed are a better, healthier alternative, is to help smokers who want to quit smoking give up traditional tobacco.

Mr Maris believes legalising e-cigarettes and regulating them to ensure standardisation and quality control of liquids and vaporisers will benefit both users and the government.

They would provide a safer alternative for users as well as significant tax revenue for the government.

Meanwhile, Suthat Rungruanghiranya, director of the Department of Medicine, the Faculty of Medicine at Srinakharinwirot University and an anti-smoking advocate, said he agrees with the stance by the Public Health Ministry which backs the ban on the device, citing the risk and their potential influence on youth as his main concerns.

On Dec 16, the network of e-cigarette users led by Mr Marit submitted a petition to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), along with the signatures of more than 17,000 people asking to legalise electronic cigarettes.

Siripol Yodmuangcharoen, chairman of the NLA's commerce subcommittee who received the petition, said the group backed its calls with information that 160 countries allow the sale of e-cigarettes, while only 15 have banned them. He said the group also claimed a substantial amount of import tax revenue has been lost due to the government's ban.

Mr Maris said he is aware the issue still needs to be discussed and is open to debate. He welcomes any agency joining a discussion with him on national television. "So far nobody from the public health sector has been willing to debate with me on public TV," he said.

Vocabulary:

adamant : determined not to change  your belief or decision about something - ยืนกราน

advocate : someone who strongly and publicly supports someone or something - ผู้สนับสนุน

aerosol (noun): a liquid such as paint or hairspray is kept under pressure and released as a spray - ละอองของเหลว

amid : at the same time as - ท่ามกลาง

cessation : the stopping of something; a pause in something - การหยุด (ชั่วคราวหรือสมบูรณ์), การชะงัก

cite : to mention something as an example - กล่าวถึง

corpse : a dead body - ศพ

demand : a very firm request for something - ข้อเรียกร้อง, การเรียกร้อง

formaldehyde (noun): a gas with no colour and a strong smell, used mixed with water for preserving dead things in a laboratory ก๊าซไร้สีกลิ่นแรงใช้ทำยาฆ่าเชื้อและยากันเน่า - a gas with no colour and a strong smell, used mixed with water for preserving dead things in a laboratory ก๊าซไร้สีกลิ่นแรงใช้ทำยาฆ่าเชื้อและยากันเน่า

hazardous : dangerous, especially to people’s health or safety - ที่เป็นอันตราย

hefty : large; expensive - หนัก,ใหญ่, แพง

indication : a sign that something happened, is true or exists - เครื่องบ่งชี้

paraphernalia : all the objects needed for or connected with a particular activity - ของใช้จิปาถะ

regulate : to control an activity officially by using rules - ควบคุม

restricted : limited or controlled - ซึ่งถูกยับยั้ง, ซึ่งถูกควบคุม

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