Police officers in Thailand are under investigation for soliciting bribes from three men caught entering the country carrying vaping devices and e-liquid. The events happened in Songkhla province, which borders Malaysia.
Thailand has one of the world’s strictest vape bans. Sales and importation of e-cigarettes and other vaping products is illegal in Thailand, and vapers are sometimes even prosecuted for possession of the devices. But despite the ban and sometimes harsh enforcement, the country maintains a thriving black market in vaping products.
There has been some recent debate about loosening vape laws in Thailand, with one cabinet minister strongly advocating for a regulated market. He has faced stiff opposition, however, with the country’s public health establishment squarely lined up against liberalization.
The three men were caught at a police checkpoint in the Hat Yai district of Songkhla province, apparently bringing vaping products into the country from Malaysia. According to The Thaiger, the men were told by local police officers that the fine for possession of e-cigarettes would be 50,000 baht (about $1,365 U.S.) each, but that they wouldn’t be charged if they each paid a 10,000 baht bribe (about $273).
When they refused to pay the bribe, the police lowered the amount to 5,000 baht, and then eventually reduced it again to a total of 10,000 baht for all three men. The men agreed to this amount and were released.
One of the bribery victims, Pachara Sirithorn, decided to warn others by telling his story on Facebook. The post got enough attention that police leaders were forced to take action, and the Hat Yai Police superintendent Akkarawut Thaneerat announced an investigation and the temporary suspension of three officers suspected of soliciting bribes.
There is a history of police corruption and overzealous enforcement of Thailand’s vape laws, including raids and arrests of sellers, tourists charged with “importation” for bringing their own vaping products into the country, and other instances of alleged bribery. Thai police actions have been so extreme regarding vaping that an official British government travel website in 2017 warned UK tourists against taking vapes to Thailand.
Police corruption in Thailand isn’t restricted to soliciting bribes from vapers, of course. A quick Google search brings up many recent examples.
In June, a Bangkok Metropolitan Police officer was convicted of soliciting 65 bribes from a massage parlor and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Earlier this year, six Nakhon Phanom provincial police were transferred pending an investigation into bribery by drug dealers. And last year a man suspected of dealing meth was suffocated to death by police during what was apparently a violent shakedown. The prime suspect in the death was the local police chief.
Thailand’s tobacco industry is both owned and regulated by the Tobacco Authority of Thailand, a state-run monopoly similar to China’s. The Tobacco Authority is the only state-sanctioned producer of cigarettes in Thailand.