Now not time to end ban on vapes
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Now not time to end ban on vapes

Some of the e-cigarette products that were confiscated during a 2019 raid on an underground market in Bangkok. Varuth Hirunyatheb
Some of the e-cigarette products that were confiscated during a 2019 raid on an underground market in Bangkok. Varuth Hirunyatheb

E-cigarettes -- also known as e-cigs, vapes, or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) -- have been banned in Thailand since 2014. Yet there are attempts to remove that ban by some members of the House of Representatives.

They claim e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes and the government is losing tax revenue if e-cigarettes remain on the black market. Supporters reason that making e-cigarettes legal is perhaps the best solution to get rid of illegal products from the black market.

The campaign to legalise e-cigarettes is relentless, even though the prime minister reportedly warned Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, minister for Digital, Economy, and Society -- a known supporter of e-cigarettes -- in a cabinet meeting that vaping is dangerous to people's health.

Recently, the Excise Department under the Ministry of Finance contemplated the idea of collecting taxes from six new products, including e-cigarettes and beverages with no alcohol content. Yet, some facts need to be considered seriously before policymakers decide to allow e-cigarettes into the consumer market and be taxed legally.

Political parties in Thailand should consider this for the benefit of public health and at the same time increase the tobacco industry's accountability.

Since 2008, cigarette sales have declined globally despite countries banning e-cigarettes, according to data from Euromonitor in 2019. Therefore, the claim by the industry that e-cigarettes help reduces smoking does not stand. Indeed, anti-smoking campaigns have challenged claims made by the transnational tobacco industry that launched so-called heat-not-burn tobacco products. The argument is that the industry has used e-cigarettes as a new product to retain consumers while marketing it as a healthier alternative.

Without any pre-market research on the health impacts of e-cigarettes, the Thai government must take the strictest precautionary measures.

As a common public health standard measure as in many countries, Thailand's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires manufacturers of e-cigarette products to apply for a consumer health safety certificate of approval before allowing such products into the Thai market.

Thai FDA representative reported to the House of Representatives Committee on Commerce and Intellectual Property, that none of the e-cigarette manufacturers had applied for pre-market safety approval.

Since public health safety is a serious concern and more evidence-based research indicating the harmful health effects of e-cigarette products is increasing, the position of the Thai government to ban the products proves to be the right move.

Indeed, the government has opened a forum for debate. This year, the Lower House's Committee on Commerce and Intellectual Property studied the pros and cons of tobacco and e-cigarettes. Supporters and opponents of e-cigarettes were invited to give their input.

The report released in May concludes that the finance ministry should properly join World Health Organization's Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products if it wants to deal with illicit trade in tobacco and vapes. In terms of health issues, the report recommends more research on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes is needed before revising public policy regarding e-cigarettes.

Nowhere in the report suggested the idea of lifting the ban on e-cigarettes. Given that, the government agencies involved, including policymakers, should continue to support the policy of banning e-cigarettes from the consumer market.

Prof Nithat Sirichotiratana is a committee member of the Thai Health Promotion Institute, National Health Foundation.

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