Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said on Tuesday he is exploring ways to legalise the sale of e-cigarettes despite strong opposition from health activists and anti-smoking campaigners.
At least 67 countries have approved e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to smoking while Thailand still refuses to accept them, he said.
The minister said he believed vaping could be a safer choice for those struggling to quit smoking, adding there were at least 10 million smokers in the country.
More importantly, if it is possible to turn tobacco grown in Thailand into e-cigarette products and export them, both the Tobacco Authority of Thailand and tobacco growers will benefit from this, he said.
Meanwhile, the National Alliance for a Tobacco-Free Thailand (NATFT) issued a statement calling on the government to increase efforts to protect the public from all forms of tobacco products.
"Various elements of society, both government and non-government, have been working hard to reduce the number of smokers, so legalising e-cigarettes will only exacerbate the situation," NATFT chairwoman Dr Somsri Pausawasdi said.
Many thousands of people in Thailand die from smoking-related illnesses each year, she said.
All 924 organisations that are members of the NATFT support the government's ban on e-cigarettes and all other new forms of smoking and are willing to work together with the government to draft new regulations regulating these products, she added.
Medical experts in the NATFT and elsewhere have been closely monitoring studies conducted into e-cigarettes worldwide and are convinced based upon the results that vaping could do more harm than good, said Prof Dr Ronnachai Kongsakon, director of Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Center (TRC).
E-cigarettes are not safer choices for people who want to quit smoking while knowledge about their long-term effects on health remains limited for now, he said.
The International Union against tuberculosis and lung disease, for instance, has recommended that the best way for low- to medium-income nations to deal with health problems associated with e-cigarettes is to prohibit them, he said.
It took the US Food and Drug Administration up to five years to successfully regulate e-cigarettes in the United States, due to technical complications, he said.