Thailand's government is looking to legalise e-cigarettes. Vaping has been banned since 2014 in the country, but according to Minister of Economic and Social Affairs Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, smokers (and tourists) in the country should have access to safer alternatives to cigarettes in the near future.
Thailand has long been known as vejp's nightmare. E-cigarettes have been illegal to sell, import and use in the country since 2014. High fines and risk of imprisonment has acted as a deterrent to both residents and tourists.
But now Thailand's Minister of Social Affairs wants Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, see a change.
"E-cigarettes are a safer alternative for smokers who have difficulty quitting. And we have 10 million smokers in Thailand today," Mr Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn told us. Bankok Post.
"Huge black market for e-cigs"
Despite the ban, nearly 80,000 Thais are still smoking today. But this figure is likely to be higher as, due to the ban, many buy and use e-cigarettes and e-liquid through a large black market. The ECST organisation (End Cigarette Smoke Thailand), which lobbies for the legalisation of e-cigarettes, estimates that there are close to one million vejpers.
'We look at the number of members on Facebook forums and the sales in the groups. The number of vejpers has increased even though e-cigarettes have been banned for seven years. This shows that the ban is not working. It's a huge black, unregulated market," said Mr Perez. Maris Kranyawath from ECST to Bankok Post.
Want to tax instead
The illicit trade in vejpdon and e-liquid is another reason why the government is now addressing the issue. According to the Minister for Social Affairs Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn the government loses considerable revenue, not least through reduced cigarette sales. E-cigarettes act as a substitute for smokers and illegal sales lead to losses of up to 6 billion baht (about 17 million SEK) a year, according to the minister.
"If we can tax the sales, the government will make money and smokers will have legal access to healthier alternatives to cigarettes," says Mr Perez. Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn to Bankok Post.
Tobacco - an important source of income
Tobacco and cigarettes are important to the Thai treasury. Through its tobacco monopoly, the Thai government grows and produces over 70 per cent of the cigarettes sold in the country. But according to Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn e-cigarettes may also become an addition to the monopoly in the future.
"If we can utilise the tobacco farms to produce other products, such as e-cigarettes, and export them in the future, both tobacco farmers and the government will benefit," he told the Bankok Post.
"Should play sports instead of smoking"
But opposition to e-cigarettes is strong in Thailand. Several strong lobby groups have put pressure on the government to maintain the current ban. According to these groups, the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown and the technology is unsafe.
"The best way to stop smoking is without any aids at all. And if we get young people to do more sport, they won't start smoking," says the doctor. Winai Boweja, to the Bangkok Post.
Doctors want long-term studies
At the same time, it notes Winai Boweja that smokers with lung disease have a better quality of life after switching to e-cigarettes.
'It is an interesting technique, but we cannot say for sure that vejping is less harmful than smoking. We need long-term studies on how the content of the vapour affects the lungs. Right now, we only have short-term studies," says Winai Boweja to Bankok Post.
In countries such as the UK and New Zealand e-cigarettes have become a tool in the fight against smoking. According to several major health organisations e-cigarettes can reduce the harmful effects of smoking by almost 95% or more.
E-cigarettes could be legalised quickly
Despite the fact that Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn The Minister wants to legalise e-cigarettes in the near future. In the spring, a committee will look at the possibilities. It will also examine whether the current import ban is compatible with human rights and smokers' right to less harmful nicotine products.
And hopes are high among the country's vejpers.
"The current ban is ineffective. If vejp products became legal, we would have standardised products. They might be more expensive, but at least it keeps young people away. E-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes. Why should they be illegal when a much more harmful product is not?" Maris Kranyawath from ECST to Bankok Post.