Diabolical toy pods merit firm ban
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Diabolical toy pods merit firm ban

PM's Office Minister Puangpet Chunlaiad shows some of the 'toy pods' that are popular nowadays among primary school students.
PM's Office Minister Puangpet Chunlaiad shows some of the 'toy pods' that are popular nowadays among primary school students.

The latest news on the rising popularity of "toy pods" -- as well as the Bangkok Post's editorial titled "Save children from toy pods" -- reminded me of commercial determinants of health (CDoH), a topic which was addressed at the Prince Mahidol Award Conference in January.

Evidence suggests the largest transnational corporations in such industries as tobacco, alcohol, ultra-processed food, and fossil fuels now account for at least a third of global deaths.

Powerful commercial actors have created a pathological system, causing harm to people's health on a global scale. Unhealthy commodity industries, such as the aforementioned, should have no role in the formation of national or international health policy.

The Lancet published a series of articles on CDoH in 2023 that called for minimising the industries' engagement in policy formulation, creating enforceable policies related to conflict of interest, lobbying, and transparency, ensuring transparency in policy consultation (public disclosure and details of funding), and implementing enforceable legislation on bribery and corruption.

Electronic cigarettes are a new example of the transnational tobacco industry (TI), which hook new customers from among the predominantly non-smoking younger generation.

The industry and its allies promote e-cigarettes as a safer product for those who want to quit regular cigarettes, but they are now disguising them as popular toys to hook children as young as primary school students.

The TI has been lying to the public for decades about the harmful effects of cigarettes and repeating more of the same for e-cigarettes.

England reversed its policy on e-cigarettes by banning disposable ones to curb the youth vaping epidemic. UK PM Rishi Sunak announced the ban last October to protect children's health over the long term.

Last May, Australia banned all e-cigarettes except for those administered to help people quit smoking under the supervision of a physician. One month later, the New Zealand government implemented a similar measure for e-cigarettes and accused the industry of trying to hook the next generation on nicotine.

Thailand has banned vapes since 2014, prompting the British Medical Journal to applaud its "swift decision". But supporters of these in Thailand argue the ban is failing because these illegal products are still easily available both online and on the street.

The same argument was heard by a special parliamentary committee set up to study the appropriate laws and measures to control e-cigarettes. Certainly, illegal vapes and similar products can be found everywhere, but legalising them is not the answer.

TI frequently lies to the public, deceives authorities, and tries to undermine scientific evidence. The theme of World No Tobacco Day this year is "Stop Lying, Tobacco Industry". In order to protect our youth from getting hooked on nicotine, policy makers should not believe the TI or its allies.

The government and related agencies should strictly implement the law, measures and policy of banning e-cigarettes by coordinating, collaborating and cooperating with academics, civil society, researchers and international experts. As we have learned from case studies in Hong Kong and Singapore, policymakers in parliament should listen to parents, teachers, health advocates and international public health experts rather than the propaganda of the TI and its networks.

This is undermining our nation's security by hooking our youths on nicotine through deadly toy pods. After Tuesday's cabinet meeting, PM Srettha Thavisin instructed the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation to collaborate on measures preventing the use of e-cigarettes. Members of the parliamentary committee studying the law and measures to control these nefarious devices should pay attention to the premier's message. If the special committee members genuinely want to help, they should go to Singapore or Hong Kong and learn how to strictly implement such a ban rather than visiting e-cigarette factories in China. Action speaks louder than words.

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

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