The rumor had already been circulating for a few months. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently recognized the imprisonment of certain foreign nationals for using e-cigarettes. With this, the country reaches a significant milestone in the fight against e-cigarettes, an approach that may surprise westerners. Furthermore, it could have major consequences for Thailand’s economy.
In Thailand, e-cigarette legislation has been extremely strict since December 12, 2014, the day the military junta prohibited all imports of e-cigarette materials. Due to a lack of knowledge of this new legislation, many foreign travellers who smoke e-cigarettes had to pay a fine. Some travellers were even arrested.
The information that the TAT provided was very scarce until recently, when a case became highly publicized. A Swiss tourist was imprisoned for 6 days for using an e-cigarette in public. A judge must now rule on the sentence imposed, which could put this unlucky tourist behind bars for up to up to ten years.
Potential economic benefits for anti e-cigarette legislation in Thailand
Against all expectations, the WHO accepts Thailand’s decision to prosecute e-cigarette users.
Dr. Jagdish Kaur, an executive from the WHO’s Office of Tobacco Control in Asia, even said he hoped that other countries would follow Thailand’s example. The doctor agreed with dissuasive sentences for e-cigarette use. According to him, allowing people to use e-cigarettes in public encourages young people to smoke tobacco. However, Thailand is not a good example of cigarette addiction. In fact, 42% of the population smoke traditional cigarettes.
The Thailand Tobacco Monopoly controls 80% of the tobacco market, bringing in an estimated 180 million Euros per year. This state-owned enterprise is also known for supporting sports teams and cultural events. Consequently, allowing foreign nationals to use e-cigarettes could invite the local population to do the same. This would have disastrous economic consequences for the local tobacco industry.
While scientific studies show that e-cigarettes are much less harmful than tobacco, Thailand’s stubbornness goes against the health of its citizens. Furthermore, media coverage of the arrest of foreign nationals could have a negative impact on the tourist industry.