Vaporizers and e-cigarettes have become very popular in Thailand prior to a ban by the government. Seeking to reduce vices in the country, the government has failed to conduct any due diligence and followed America’s footsteps towards an unjust ban on a product that can reduce cigarette smoke in public areas.
Just “illegal” for the time being
The ban raises a lot of eyebrows.
As much as we would like to believe that the ban is erring on the side of caution, a wealth of available information out there seems to be advocating for the benefits that e-cigarettes and vaporizers can bring when replacing conventional smoking.
In that case, shouldn’t more smokers get a chance to at least decide for themselves?
Are we protecting someone’s cut of the pie again?
What are the government fears?
Local media outlets recently released report claiming that vaporizer and e-cigarette use heightens the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
The claim cites that exhaled aerosol from such products can be comparable to spitting directly in someone’s face, spreading droplets, saliva, and what eventually contracts the virus from one person to another. These reports even go as far as claiming that vaping might cause more severe symptoms in active COVID-19-positive cases.
This sounds like another wave of the government’s propaganda to back the ban, these reports are contradictory to others produced independently elsewhere.
Dr Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology and global public health at the University of Michigan, said that any connection between vaping and the rate of young people with severe disease from COVID-19 is still a speculation.
Another doctor, Samuel Allen, a pulmonologist at Beaumont Health also added that “There’s really no scientific evidence that links the two.”
Even The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its take on the correlation (or the lack thereof) saying that there is no known effect on the risk of vaping to the spread of coronavirus.
The FDA did say that vaporizers may expose their lungs to toxic chemicals but this is nothing new, even to conventional cigarette smokers.
Smoking: an informed choice
It is a known fact that smoking (of any kind) causes lung cancer.
It is, nevertheless, a vice that can be freely chosen by responsible adults. It is important to remember that over 10.7 million people around the world still do smoke.
Given that smoking is a fact of everyday life, the conversation should be focused how to best manage, educate, and provide a suitable environment for the portion of our citizens who opt for this lifestyle.
Clearly, the very least that the government can do is to not deprive them of possibly healthier alternatives.
In 2017 a landmark paper funded by Cancer Research UK demonstrated that in long-term e-cigarette users (who had been using their product for at least 6 months) many toxicants present in smokers’ urine were significantly lower in e-cigarette users. These included metabolites of the lung carcinogen NNK and a number of volatile organic compounds. This was only the case for those who switched entirely to e-cigarettes from tobacco.
The ban on E-Ciggs could even be counterproductive if the harms are in fact not the vaporizers and e-cigarettes themselves, but rather poor attempts to manufacture the products (that often turn out to be defects) in various black markets.
Like in the EU, the UK, the US or, closer to home, the Philippines, open access to new innovative smoking products has already saved many lives from cancer. Having put the ban in place since 2014, Thailand is doing nothing but swimming against the tide.
Using COVID-19 as a cover
With COVID-19 threatening the world’s public health, it is easy to tag along with the crisis and make vaporizers and e-cigarettes evil co-conspirators.. With or without correlations, the matter is worth proper and thorough investigations.
Lung cancer is still very much a severe cause of death anywhere in the world. We cannot dismiss one crisis in the face of another. That is a good enough reason for us to start assessing unbiased implications and benefits that vaporizers and e-cigarettes can bring to Thailand’s public health carefully.
How about the right to stand trial? Shouldn’t vaporizers and e-cigarettes at least be studied objectively? Shouldn’t Harm Reduction, especially Tobacco Harm Reduction be the right to everyone?
Asa Saligupta is the leader of Ends Cigarettes Smoke Thailand (ECST) – a tobacco harm reduction consumer group in Thailand.