There is a lot of confusion on the subject of using e-cigarettes and vaping inside the Kingdom of Thailand. Even some embassies have spread a popular misconception in their official guidelines, declaring vaping illegal, so let us start by clarifying this complex issue right off the bat: No, there is not a single law prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in Thailand.
So why on earth is there countless of articles circling around the web claiming the exact opposite? Let’s uncover the truth mixed with conflicting interpretations behind Thailand and its existing legislation around e-cigarettes.
The rise of e-cigarettes and vaping has been controversial, to say the least. Whether this new way of puffing candy-flavoured cumuli is, in fact, safer than traditional tobacco, is still under strict scrutiny, but the science and anecdotal evidence is certainly looking promising for pro-vapers. If there’s a safer alternative for tobacco, which is the leading cause of preventable death globally, why are these devices still barred in some countries?
E-Cigarettes and Vaping in Thailand
Thailand has been slow in adapting to the changing world of tobacco. While increasingly popular in western cultures, vaping is still a relatively new thing within the borders of the kingdom. As a strongly conservative nation, coupled with a challenging political history, it’s understandable to see Thailand lagging a touch behind in some areas.
There’s a common misconception often spread online stating that vaping is illegal in Thailand. This is somewhat inaccurate, as there is not a single law prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in Thailand.
The important part here is the word use, so we’ll just double-check you caught that.
The existing legislation has actually only two mentions of e-cigarettes, that prohibit the sale, services and import of these devices into the kingdom.
Let’s take a look at this exact legislation to uncover the source of this confusion.
What the law in effect states:
As we can see, the law only prohibits the sales and service of “hookahs, and liquids for filling hookahs, electronic hookahs, and electronic cigarettes”, as well as importing these devices into Thailand. There are no other mentions of e-cigarettes in any other piece of Thai legislation, so it would be inaccurate to say personal use or ownership of e-cigarettes would be against the law.
The law was also passed in 2014, making ownership of a device purchased before this technically legal, however proving, explaining and convincing this to a member of Royal Thai Police would require quite spectacular verbal gymnastics.
So is the existing law just poorly worded?
Not quite, there are official instructions in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to place e-cigarette equipment in your carry-on, which obviously wouldn’t exist for something that is illegal to possess inside the Kingdom.
This is where it gets complicated.
Can you bring an e-cigarette into Thailand?
The real question we should ask is what is the existing interpretation of the law?
Is bringing a single e-cigarette for personal use considered as importing the device into Thailand, making it illegal to own e-cigarettes inside the borders of the Kingdom? Let’s observe this argument under a magnifying glass.
The exact word used in the legislation, “นำเข้า” (Nả k̄hêā), import, is defined as “to bring (goods or services) into a country from abroad for sale“.
But bringing an e-cigarette into Thailand for personal use is not commercial activity, which the law specifically prohibits, so shouldn’t this be allowed? And here we have wandered in the centre of all the confusion around the subject.
There’s definitely an argument to be made whether bringing a device purely for personal use actually constitutes as importing, which has lead the officials to release conflicting interpretations while commenting on the subject.
As of now this is admittedly a grey area, where a variety of perspectives exist — even within the Thai government.
It’s a risky business and we certainly can’t recommend it, but there is no actual law specifically prohibiting bringing e-cigarettes into the country for personal use, using them in public, or even possession of related equipment.
Bringing them into the country for personal use, while technically not mentioned in the current legislation, might get you in trouble if the officer in question isn’t familiar with the wording of the law.
Luckily there is an existing court case that we can use as evidence of what happens when the law is followed to the letter.
Court Case Proves Vaping Is Not Illegal
There was a famous incident in 2019 when a 31-year-old French tourist on a holiday in Phuket was apprehended by four Thai police for using an electronic cigarette while her fiancée was driving a motorcycle.
According to her, she was asked to pay an on-the-spot fine of 40,000 baht, which she refused.
The police have denied this, as it is a clear example of trying to bully her to pay a bribe, a popular extortion tactic used by grimy police officers in Thailand.
She was detained, taken into the monkey house, and had to post a bail of 100,000 baht to be released on pending trial.
Her passport was confiscated and she was left waiting on her court date.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Looking through the court documents, she received a fine of just 800 baht… but it isn’t actually marked for vaping.
The fine is addressed for smoking while driving, endangerment of traffic safety.
The amount is also in line with a fine you would receive for smoking a traditional cigarette while driving, or in this case as a passenger, which is also illegal.
Omission of the vaping means the court couldn’t find any legal grounds to charge the Frenchwoman for her e-cigarette use — as it doesn’t actually exist.
Her court date was set after her visa had already expired, which lead to her being immediately detained for overstaying her tourist visa and transferred into immigration detention centre to-be deported from the Kingdom.
She claims she spent four days and three nights in a prison cell shared with 60 other women in dire conditions where she had to sleep on a hard, dirty floor with no sheets or mattresses before returning home to France.
She also ended up paying over 8,000 euros (295,000 baht) in legal fees and travel expenses.
This pretty much proves the point, that you can get in serious trouble for using a vape in Thailand. The problem is, that the law is not usually followed to the letter and there’s a lot of different interpretations circling around. Is it actually illegal to own or use a vape inside Thailand? At least the court in Karon couldn’t find enough legislation to back it up, which leads us to the conclusion:
There is not a single law forbidding the use of e-cigarettes inside Thailand, and when the law is followed to the letter, there are no penalties for the personal use of electronic cigarettes.
Hey, you might end up in jail for using one, but at least you are technically correct, right!?
The good news is, that the unofficial guidelines and interpretation of permitting personal use of e-cigarettes has been recently more widely adopted, resulting in more officers withdrawing personal use outside of the boundaries of the law enforcement.
The police continue to observe the law in its existing capability, cracking down on commercial agents selling e-cigarettes inside the kingdom. There haven’t been recent news articles of people being detained for using a vape, but this might still happen.
Even some Thai police have been seen using e-cigarettes, and there’s an on-going discussion about changing the legislation to allow vaping equipment to be sold legally inside the borders of the kingdom. However, as of 2020, this is still under debate.
The bad news is, that the confusion and misconceptions are still widely spread while lacking any official clarification or interpretation of the existing law regarding personal use.
This means, that despite not being illegal, It’s not safe to use vaping equipment inside Thailand.
As of now, you might end up in serious trouble for using an electronic cigarette in Thailand. It all depends on how well-informed the police officer you encounter is, and what is their interpretation of the existing legislation. As for the court and places where the law is followed to the letter, vaping itself is not illegal in Thailand.
Now does this information help you when the police bully you thousands of baht for catching you with an electronic cigarette?
If you do get in trouble, it’s better to learn how to stay out of the monkey house and deal with the police in Thailand.
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