The recent news of police extorting tourists for possessing e-cigarettes raises the question of whether it's time or not to legalise these electronic devices. But it's an issue that goes beyond limiting the income stream of crooked cops.
While cigarettes, with their detrimental impacts on health, are legal, e-cigarettes have been banned since 2017. Despite the ban, about 80,000 e-cigarette users in the kingdom are violating the law. More than half of this number is in the 15–24 age group.
Many chain smokers turn to vaping in the belief that it poses less of a health threat than smoking cigarettes, or they use a vape to help them quit real cigarettes.
Vapes are also increasingly popular among young consumers because they are cheaper than real tobacco.
The idea of legalising e-cigarettes gained further momentum last week after it was publicly pushed for by Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn.
"We should stop pretending [vaping has been successfully banned]. We are still struggling to deal with the problem," Mr Chaiwut said.
He said that decriminalisation has its positives -- it would be another source of tax revenue while stopping corrupt cops from extorting people caught using a vape.
Mr Chaiwut added that decriminalising vapes would be a policy of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) for the coming general election.
Currently, e-cigarettes are permitted in 73 countries around the world -- mostly Western nations such as the US, UK and Europe. Among these 73 nations, 36 countries impose regulations to control nicotine and some content in e-cigarettes. About 37 countries, including Thailand, have completely banned vapes on a precautionary basis.
While supporters and businesses tout the product as an alternative, healthier choice to cigarettes or as an aid to quit cigarette addiction, recent health impact assessments suggest otherwise.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that e-cigarettes -- no matter what size or design -- are basically electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), and the liquid that is heated to create an aerosol contains flavours and other chemicals that can cause serious health risks.
Research from the Johns Hopkins University on vape ingredients published in October 2021 found that among the chemical ingredients in vape products are those considered potentially harmful substances.
But vape backers often state how many Western or developed countries permit e-cigarettes, but that could be a reversing trend.
In 2020, authorities in San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban the sale of e-cigarettes.
This month, Taiwan's legislature passed a total ban on the sales and use of vaping products while applying tightened restrictions on regular tobacco products as well.
That said, policymakers must strive to make well-informed choices based on reliable information and reasonable expectations.
If the ban is removed, the next challenge for the government goes beyond just collecting a tax. They will need to regulate large numbers of sellers and control and inspect the quality of these health-impacting products.
Moreover, without a good monitoring system, sellers will again go underground, and Mr Chaiwat's dream to reap tax will go unrealised.