Time to wake up on e-cigs
The arrest of a couple in Pathum Thani on Tuesday for allegedly selling electronic cigarettes has prompted users of the alternative products to come out and press lawmakers to revise the law, saying the ban is dogged by misinformation. And they are not wrong about that.
The arrested duo merely sold the products which have been illegal in Thailand since 2014, but which have been proven to be much less hazardous to health than tobacco cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are metal tubes that heat liquids typically laced with nicotine to deliver vapour when inhaled. Interest that the couple received from potential buyers via their Facebook pages implies that there could be strong enthusiasm among traditional smokers who want to try or switch to "vaping", as it is commonly known, as a means to cut down on their smoking.
Premature in its making, Thailand's law, which bans the production, import, sale and consequently possession, of e-cigarettes needs to be revisited. A total ban is too extreme, and the punishment, which can include imprisonment of up to 10 years, is far too harsh.
Alternatively, regulating e-cigarettes the same way as traditional tobacco products should be an approach conservative enough to be accepted by opponents and flexible enough for enthusiasts and users.
There have been studies and debate on the pros and cons of e-cigarettes. It is true that e-cigarettes may not be completely harmless, although hazardous effects largely depend on the ingredients of the flavour chosen by the user which vary among different manufacturers. But they are almost undoubtedly less harmful than tobacco products. This fact should encourage us not to overlook the benefits that e-cigarettes could have on regular smokers.
For example, Cancer Research UK-funded scientists in February found that e-cigarettes are far safer than smoking tobacco. According to their study, people who completely swapped smoking tobacco cigarettes for e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapy for at least six months had much lower levels of toxic- and cancer-causing substances in their body than people who continued to use conventional cigarettes.
But dual users, who used e-cigarettes while continuing to smoke, did not show the same marked differences, highlighting that a complete switch is needed to reduce exposure to toxins.
Even though they may not be effective in helping people give up their addiction to nicotine entirely, e-cigarettes can help steer them away from smoking tobacco and the cocktail of other toxins that involves.
Many countries, including the UK, have legalised e-cigarettes, while some others still ban them. In 2014, the European parliament passed regulations requiring standardisation and quality control for liquids and vapourisers, and disclosure of ingredients in liquids, among other measures.
Thailand should adopt a similar approach to the EU. The Thai anti-tobacco laws are among the strongest in the world. The country can apply the same restrictions on the sale and advertisement of e-cigarettes such as the need for a health risk warning displayed on product packaging and prohibition of access to minors. Manufacturers should also be required to disclose their ingredients.
The complete ban on e-cigarettes forces enthusiasts to buy them from abroad, or via unlicensed local sources, meaning no taxes are paid and no safety checks on the products are enforced.
We need a moderate approach to e-cigarettes, not a ban.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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