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Ombudsman asks government to include citizens’ voice on Thailand e-cigarette policy

THAILAND: The Office of the Ombudsman has asked relevant government agencies to listen to the voice of the public objectively in deciding on whether the ban on electronic cigarettes in Thailand should be lifted or extended.

Representatives of the Ends Cigarette Smoke Thailand (ECST) and administrators of the Facebook page “What is e-cigarette” attended the August 17 meeting at the Office of the Ombudsman to tackle the petition questioning the ban on sales and import of e-cigarettes.

Officials of the Department of Foreign Trade, Office of the Consumer Protection Board, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, and the Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Center also attended the meeting.

“We would like to thank the Ombudsman for being the hope of the people and for giving the e-cigarette user network a chance to clarify the information as well as inviting all parties to discuss in order to be fair to e-cigarette users and to find appropriate solutions together,” ECST representative Asa Saligupta said in a statement.

The Ministry of Commerce earlier confirmed the resolution to keep the ban on e-cigarettes, citing TRC’s report which drew doubts among people affected by the ban.

“The current ban on e-cigarettes is a violation of the people’s right to access safer alternative products and accurate information about e-cigarettes. This is considered to be an unfair practice of deliberately refraining from performing the duty of inspecting information presented from all sides,” Mr. Saligupta said.

“We believe that good regulation must not restrict the rights of adults who want access to less harmful alternative products, and at the same time measures to protect children and youth from accessing these products. This is a guideline that more than 60 countries around the world use to regulate the product according to the law. We hope that the committee of the Ministry of Commerce and the TRC’s subsequent reviews will be impartial and take into account the impacts on every group of individuals,” Mr. Saligupta said.

Mr. Saligupta said that amid the unfair ban on e-cigarettes, they asked the Office of the Ombudsman to provide justice to more than half a million e-cigarette users in Thailand. “We estimate that there are currently over 500,000 e-cigarette users nationwide, plus 11 million smokers who are looking for a less harmful alternative to replace smoking,” he said.

“We are glad that the Ombudsman remains an institution that the people in suffering can depend on in finding a just and transparent solution to the problem. Hence, the most important key is the people’s participation and listening to the opinions of the public, especially e-cigarette users, which we are considered to be directly impacted by the ban,” said Mr. Saligupta.

Mr. Saligupta said findings from scientific agencies in the U.S., the UK, and other European countries concluded that e-cigarettes generate less harmful chemicals than what are found in traditional cigarettes. “We have tried to bring this information to both the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Public Health, but the presented information has never been considered to make amendments on the ban,” he said.

The Ministry of Commerce asked the TRC to conduct a study on e-cigarettes, but the results did not take into account the data from the different sides, according to Mr. Saligupta.

“It also obstructs the participation of people who have a different point of view, which is against the intention of the legislation and the study of the achievement of the law. The ban has been in place for five years, and both the country and the people have not benefitted at all,” he said.

Mr. Maris Karanyawat, another representative of ECST, said that Thailand’s e-cigarette ban goes against foreign guidelines that focus on the importance of research and scientific approaches.

For example, Hong Kong and New Zealand have recently considered control regulations on alternative products, including e-cigarettes where there were open public hearings to listen to the opinions of the people and took into consideration results from scientific studies that include information on e-cigarettes’ advantages and disadvantages, impact on health, society, and economy.

“Either right or wrong, the society deserves to know the science or the whole truth and not distorted inaccurate information like nowadays,” Mr. Karanyawat said.

E-cigarette products are prohibited from being imported and distributed in the Kingdom of Thailand, according to the Ministry of Commerce announcement in 2014, and the prohibition on sale and service according to the announcement of the Office of the Consumer Protection Board in 2015.

Mr. Karanyawat said that despite the prohibition, there are still more than 500,000 e-cigarette users who are secretly selling and buying through illegal channels, resulting in a large underground market.

The market value of e-cigarettes is estimated to be more than 6 billion baht annually. As the products are prohibited, the government cannot collect taxes, depriving the State of potential income and creating a burden on the government agencies that have to arrest and crack down on the illicit goods.

This also creates confusion within the public about the potential of e-cigarettes as tobacco harm reduction products. E-cigarettes are being sold widely, uncontrolled by the government, leaving opportunities for extortion by government officials and providing no measures to prevent youth access.

Nancy Loucas, executive coordinator for the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) said that the work that had been done by the government of New Zealand should be the precedent for the Kingdom of Thailand, as well as the wider Asia Pacific region.

“New Zealand’s acknowledgement of their responsibilities as a signatory to WHO FCTC, under Article 5.3 by engaging with the community and their understanding that harm reduction is one of the two precepts of the article allowed New Zealand to come up with a basic framework that balances the needs of smokers and the needs of the general public,” she said. “The push for a regulated market was the initiative of the consumers of New Zealand, just as they are doing in Thailand. It is a grassroots initiative from the main stakeholders, who are the real experts,” Loucas added.

About ECST
Ends Cigarette Smoke Thailand is a consumer advocacy organization that strives to promote tobacco harm reduction in the face of blanket bans, fines and jail time for consumers who wish to use alternative nicotine consumption products, specifically Electronic Liquid Vaporizers.

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