Thailand police crackdown on tourists with vape devices shows they desperately need harm reduction policies
If you happen to practice harm reduction and have a vape device in your pocket, it seems Thailand is the last place you’re going to want to visit.
In the last few days, it was revealed that police officers allegedly extorted a Taiwanese actress of more than 27,000 baht ($820) for…wait for it…having a vaping device.
Taiwanese actress Charlene An got into a taxi with friends after a night out in the Thai capital and was caught with a vape and was held by the police and not allowed to leave until she paid the steep fine.
This is not only an abuse of power and irresponsible in its own right, but it proves again why Thailand must modernize its policies on harm reduction and embrace alternatives to smoking like vaping and other products.
Before that, in 2019, a tourist from France was arrested, fined, jailed and deported just for vaping. She had to bear legal costs, expenses and fines of approximately 286,000 Baht ($8730) in just one week.
For any tourist, this can be unsettling, but it’s even more problematic that local residents don’t have access to legal harm reduction products. This is what happens when the government’s own policy sees vaping as a threat.
The Thai government must immediately re-evaluate their policy on vaping and take into account the proposal from Minister Thanakamanusorn to legalize the use of vaping as a way to give smokers the option to quit.
The government should replicate the implementation of policies in countries such as the United Kingdom that have succeeded in significantly reducing smoking rates through the recognition of harm reduction as the main strategy.
Based on data recently released by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics, the number of smokers aged 18 and over has decreased from 14.0 percent in 2020 to 13.3 percent in 2021. In fact, this is the most effective decrease since it was first recorded in 2011 by 20.2 percent.
In August last year, Thailand’s Public Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stated that e-cigarettes pose significant health risks to users and that vaping helps create new smokers, especially among young people in Thailand.
Based on a recent study by the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities United Kingdom stated vaping significantly lowered exposure to harmful substances compared to smoking, as shown by biomarkers associated with the risk of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
Besides, an analytical survey by Lee, Coombs dan Afolalu (2018) said the actual factors of vaping among youth have yet to be proven. In addition, according to the Royal College of Physicians, reports stating that teenagers who use vaping are at risk of potentially giving birth to a generation affected by nicotine are not based on evidence.
If policymakers took this into account, perhaps there would be more people with different options for harm reduction in Thailand, and perhaps less cases of abuse by police officers.
Tarmizi Anuwar is the Malaysia Country Associate of the Consumer Choice Center.