Bangkok’s Klong Prem Central Prison is something that tourists to Thailand usually try to avoid. Highly regimented, squalid living conditions, rotten food, harsh guards, and a powerful sense of isolation all add to the wonderful ambience of the place. An “extended stay” at this modern day Lubyanka Prison is something to be avoided at all costs. However, unwitting tourists might be bringing something into the country that could result in a long prison term and a hefty fine. What is this contraband? Heroin? Cocaine? Marijuana? Guns? Hustler Magazines? Vials of Ebola virus? No, none of these. The contraband that can destroy your life is...an e-cigarette.
Yes, e-cigarettes, or tobacco vaporizers, have been outlawed in Thailand since 2014. There is a great deal of confusion about “why” they are banned, especially since there is no statute specifically forbidding them. The Thai government views them as a category of goods that haven’t had a tax levied upon them. No tax, no legal status. Because of this, e-cigarettes fall into a strange category. Because they are not taxed, a tourist caught with one could spend up to five years in prison. If convicted of importing or making them, the sentence grows to ten years.
Vape justice is swift!
Section 20 of the Customs Act 2469
Any person found committing or attempting to commit or employing or aiding or inciting any person to commit an offence under the provisions of this Act may be arrested without warrant by any Competent Official, and taken, with any exhibit as to which the offence or attempted offence may have been committed, to a police station to take legal action. If there are reasonable grounds to suspect that any person commits an offence under the provision hereof or possesses article relating to a previous offence or which might be used to commit an offence, the Competent Officer may arrest such person and dealt with this case in a like manner.
What this means is that an arresting officer can and will cart you off to the nearest police station. This is where you will be asked to pay a 20,000 Bath fine. That’s about €508 or $600 US. Of course, some negotiating can be done. Even without a warrant, though, you can be held there until your trial. Kiss your holiday goodbye.
Many tourists to Thailand play “Vape Roulette.” The prohibition is not uniformly enforced. A police officer spotting you vaping in a nightclub may simply ask you to move outside to a smoking area. Or, you might be escorted to the nearest police station, your vaporizer being confiscated.
Adding to the confusion and frustration is that even the police aren’t sure what’s legal and what’s not legal. Some say that vaping is only illegal outside, even in your car. Others say that it is illegal everywhere. Not having a specific statute outlawing them makes enforcement problematic. A pervasive feeling in Thailand is that the e-cigarette ban is the work of the Thai tobacco industry. Cigarettes are heavily taxed. There is no tax on e-cigarettes, and this is the problem.
A plucky tourist walked the streets of Thailand with his video camera on, trying to find some sense to the e-cigarette conundrum.
This is what he found.
Advice to the vaping tourist...wait until you get home.
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