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More ASEAN countries look at harm reduction to address smoking epidemic

May 19, 2022 People's Journal 629 views

MORE ASEAN countries now moving towards the regulation of smoke-free alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products as a means to reduce the harm from smoking, following the example of the Philippines.

Thailand is in the process of adopting a law that lifts the ban on vaping to provide adult smokers with smoke-free alternatives that are considered far less harmful than combustible cigarettes.

This development in Thailand came after the Philippine Congress approved the Vaporized Nicotine Products Bill or Vape Bill which is expected to be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte.

A draft legislation to legalize e-cigarettes was filed at a sub-committee of Thailand’s Parliament. Several top officials of Thailand, including Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, expressed support for the legalization.

Asa Saligupta, director of ENDS Cigarette Smoke Thailand (ECST), said that with draft legislation now before a sub-committee, he is confident that the Vaping bill will be passed by Thailand’s Parliament this year.

He said the Thai government is expected to regulate safer nicotine products because the harsh ban and penalties on vape imports and sales have failed.

Clarisse Virgino, the Philippine representative to the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA), said more Southeast Asian countries are expected to look at the Philippines’ experience in “welcoming tobacco harm reduction as the most effective public health strategy to address the smoking problem.”

Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP) president Anton Israel said this means that more countries now realize that the best way to reduce the harm from smoking is to provide consumers with better alternatives such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

“Asian consumers deserve the same access to smoke-free cigarette alternatives as what consumers in the US and Europe get. We hope that more Southeast Asian nations will adopt the more pragmatic and scientific approach to reduce the harm from smoking,” said Israel.

Joey Dulay, president of Philippine E-cigarette Industry Association (PECIA), said the regulation of these innovative products will enable the vaping industry to meet government standards and thus avoid an underground market that does not contribute revenues to the government.

“We hope that Thailand and other nations in ASEAN will also pass their own versions of the Vape Bill which was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers in the Philippines. This is to ensure that all nicotine delivery systems are properly regulated,” said Dulay.

Chaiwut was quoted earlier that he asked the National Tobacco Products Control Committee to reconsider its March 28 decision to ban the sale and import of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as a committee set up by his ministry found that people wanted less harmful alternatives to e-cigarettes.

He said while e-cigarettes are illegal in Thailand, they are widely available for sale on online shopping platforms which led to a flourishing online business.

Chaiwut said his ministry supports the use of new technology and that a ban on imports and sales of e-cigarettes would only push these new products towards the black market. On the other hand, allowing e-cigarettes to be sold legally would generate more taxes for the Thai government and set industry standards, he said.

Any control on e-cigarettes should be based on scientific evidence and actual facts about their impact on smokers’ health, he said, while describing vaping as a “safer option” for people who are unable to quit smoking.

Scientific research in 70 developed countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and other European countries showed that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes and, in each case, their sale is even supported by the government, he said.

Chaiwut said people should get unbiased information about e-cigarettes that they can use in making decisions about consuming tobacco. “More importantly, young people should be educated that these products are not for them,” he said.

He said there should be strict laws governing the minimum age for the sale of e-cigarettes and quality controls of the products to make sure that they meet international standards.

Chaiwut said that based on data from the National Statistical Bureau, Thailand had over 10 million smokers in 2021, with 52 percent of them not thinking about quitting.

Saligupta said, Minister Chaiwut and other government officials hold the key to finally confronting Thailand’s failed tobacco control policies.