A French tourist says police in Thailand first tried to extort money from her, and then arrested and charged her for possessing a vape. After that, things got much worse.
Cecilia Cornu was on vacation in Phuket when four Karon police officers stopped her on Jan. 30 for holding an e-cigarette, according to the Phuket News. Cornu had been riding a scooter with her fiance. Karon is a resort town on Phuket Island, a popular tourist area on the Indian Ocean. Cornu, 31, was there with several family members.
The police confiscated her vape and demanded a bribe of 40,000 Baht (about $1,260 U.S.). Cornu refused to pay, and was arrested and taken to the police station. She was charged (the specific charge is unclear) and released on bail. Her passport was seized, and a trial date was set for Feb. 11 — nearly two weeks after she had planned to leave.
Vaping products are illegal to sell, manufacture, or import in Thailand, and the country’s vape ban is one of the strictest in the world. In 2017, a Swiss tourist was charged with importation for bringing a vape for personal use into the country.
Cornu was convicted in court on Feb. 11 and paid a fine of 827 Baht (about $26). She was told to report to the immigration office in Phuket and assumed this was to get her passport back. However, upon arriving she was told she would be transferred to Bangkok — more than 500 miles away — for deportation.
Cornu says she spent four nights in a dirty prison cell waiting to be deported. According to Cornu, she shared space with 60 other women, and slept on a hard floor with no sheets or blankets — all for a crime that was settled with a $26 fine.
The French woman says the entire legal nightmare cost her 8,000 Euros (about $9,100), and more than two weeks of her life.
Last October it was reported that Thailand was rethinking its vaping ban, which has been in place since 2014. A commerce ministry panel is currently studying the issue. One of the major issues is damage to the country’s tourist industry by news stories about harsh enforcement like the current example. The U.K. government even issued an advisory to travelers urging British tourists to avoid taking vapes to Thailand.
The government of Thailand generates revenue not just from excise taxes on cigarettes, but also through sales by the Tobacco Authority of Thailand. The government agency itself produces cigarettes, which bring in billions for the state.