I came across this tweet
from Dick Puddlecote last weekend, and it made me think about the ridiculous situation regarding e-cigs in Thailand.
As the law stands, the mere possession of an e-cig can carry a penalty of ten years imprisonment. Yes, that’s TEN YEARS! For vaping!
Makes the TPD look positively benign, does it not?
However, as is so often the case in Thailand, the reality is somewhat different. People can be seen vaping openly all over the place. The hardware and e-liquids are available both in the markets and online (from Thai suppliers), and the last time I was there, about six months ago, I took an e-cig with me in my hand luggage, and not an eyebrow was raised as my bag passed through the scanner in security.
That said, stupid though it might be, the law does really exist, and if you happen to meet an unfriendly cop who has a thing about farang (Thai slang for occidental) or vaping, or who just got kicked out by his mia noi then you could quite possibly be looking at a jail term for vaping. Which makes it problematical for vapers travelling to Thailand. “Do I take a punt on not meeting any nasty cops / customs guys, or do I leave my e-cig at home?”
This air of uncertainty is not unique to e-cigs. In Thailand there are many laws which aren’t generally enforced, and it’s pot luck whether you get busted or not. The BiB (an abbreviation used by most expats in Thailand for the police – ‘Boys in Brown’) like this situation, because it opens up many avenues of supplemental income, or what’s more generally known in Thailand as ‘Tea Money’. The Thai police, like most organisations there, are institutionally corrupt. It’s a way of life. That’s why you get a job as a policeman, despite the poor salary, because of the potential ‘perks’. So a driver gets stopped for not wearing a seatbelt, the cop goes to write a ticket, the driver slips him 100 Baht, and it’s job done. I read a comment from a guy (Dutch, I think) recently, who got stopped in Bangkok for something, and they found an e-cig on him. He was told what the penalties for possession were, and that if he paid an on-the-spot fine of 1000 Baht he’d get away with a caution (and his e-cig taken, no doubt for the cops to use). Naturally, he paid the thousand. And the cops had a few extra beers that night. It’s the Thai way.
But the Thai government is anyway pretty enthusiastic about Tobacco Control, so it’s no surprise that they’ve banned e-cigs. They’ve had shutters on shop displays for about 12 years, medico-porn on packs was mandated about the same time, and you can’t smoke anywhere inside.
Even open railway platforms are non-smoking.
They have embraced the FCTC with open arms, and pursue its tenets ardently.
As you can see from the above sign, they’re pretty down on alcohol, too. There are lots of ridiculous, ill-conceived laws there about alcohol. Like it can’t be sold within 300m of a school (this is a fairly recent law, as are most of them), which makes no sense at all. If a kid wants to get some booze, a 300m exclusion zone from the school won’t make one iota of difference. He’ll just hop on his pushbike or Honda Dream and go to a shop outside the area. Where it does impact, however, is where regular folk who happen to live next to a school can no longer pop down to the 7/11 on the corner and pick up a couple of cold beers. I have this situation now when we’re staying with the in-laws. Previously, if I wanted a couple of cans of beer, it was less than five minutes walk to the local 7/11. Now, if I want a beer, it’s a good half hour round trip. (I have the use of Pa’s car if I want, but it’s such a palaver with tying the dogs up etc that I generally opt to walk.) Which is a right pain in the arse.
You also can’t buy alcohol between 2pm and 5pm, which also drives me nuts, because when we’re in Bangkok it’s at about that time in the afternoon that we’re getting back to the apartment (room), and I like to pick up a couple of cold beers from the local 7/11 on the corner (as you may have guessed, 7/11 stores are ubiquitous in Thailand) on the way back, to enjoy while we sort ourselves out for the evening. So now I have to make a special trip in the morning before we go out to get a couple of beers to put in the fridge. Either that or get them from a Mom & Pop store (where they ignore the rules) and carry them much further. And they probably won’t be cold.
First world problems!
And while I’m on a moaning jag about Thailand’s puritanical alcohol rules, the other thing that I get annoyed about is the price of wine. For some reason, I know not what, wine is taxed at punitive levels. I think that by the time it hits the supermarket shelf, it has had something like 430% tax and duties levied on it, which leads to a situation where a bottle of imported Johnny Walker Red is cheaper to buy than a bottle of mediocre or worse wine. It’s insane. If you want something (barely) reasonably drinkable, you’re looking at 700 Baht (€17.72) a bottle. The sort of wine I’d be paying €3 – €5 for in my local supermarket. I really don’t understand why they tax wine so heavily. It’s not as if they have a wine industry to protect. There are a couple of winemakers in Thailand, but small scale, and I have to say that the one (fairly expensive, if I remember) Thai wine (red) that I’ve tried was execrable. So I dunno. Maybe it was just a case of the HiSo (the wealthy upper classes) wanting to price it out of range of the LoSo (lower classes).
I’ve been somewhat critical of Thailand in this post, and justifiably, I think. However, all that said, it’s a great place in many different ways. I spend quite a lot of time there, and I love it. As I said when referring to e-cigs, these laws exist, but are commonly flouted. So you can get by, silly regulations notwithstanding. If the ruling classes weren’t so pompous and nannying, it would be a lot better. Which applies to most places, I guess.
The latest news out of Thailand is that Yingluk, the deposed prime minister, has skipped bail and left the country. It’s not surprising really, as the Shinawatra clan (her brother Thaksin was PM before her, and was also ousted by military coup) are despised by the elite, and she probably would have been incarcerated for several years, what with having all the Powers That Be arraigned against her. The military junta are probably quite pleased that she’s left, as it defuses a very touchy political situation (not to mention that they get all her assets – about $17 million worth). The Shinawatras are very popular with the rural population, and her conviction would without doubt have led to riots and bloodshed on the street at the very least.
The problem for the Shinawatras was that they were too popular. And in a country which in theory is a constitutional monarchy, but where in practice the royal family wields a huge amount of political power, too much popularity is a dangerous thing. The old king, Bhumibol, was revered in the manner of a demigod, so populist politicians didn’t represent much of a threat. However, when Thaksin came to power, the old king was on his last legs, and his son and heir, Vajiralongkorn, doesn’t enjoy anywhere near the same adulation. In fact a large number of Thais don’t much care for him at all. So the army, who are loyal not to the government but to the royals, decided that popular populist politicians were a threat to the establishment, and not to be tolerated, hence the coups. To say that Thai politics is Machiavellian is an understatement. I may delve deeper into this subject in a future post.
So I would guess that Yingluk has joined her brother in Dubai, where he lives in self-imposed exile.
Pity, really. She was much easier on the eye than General Prayut Chan-Ocha, the current incumbent. And a lot less puritanical.
Apropos nothing at all, this was one of the funniest little photo montages that came out of Yingluk’s tenure, of when she met Obama: