Vaping in Asia: What’s the 411?


If you vape, look up a country’s rules on e-cigarettes before you travel to avoid fines or even jail time. Source: Shutterstock

IT IS estimated 20.8 million people worldwide currently use vaping devices like e-cigarettes and vape pens. But not everyone is a fan, and an increasing number of countries are enforcing restrictions or prohibiting their use entirely.

Vaping products first appeared in 2006 and have steadily risen in popularity as a “healthier” alternative and aid to wean people off traditional tobacco smoking.

They work by heating a vegetable glycerin-based liquid (e-liquid) that contains nicotine and flavoring, transforming it into a vapor. This is inhaled through the device, giving users their nicotine hit without producing the tar and carcinogen laden smoke that comes from burning tobacco.

However, questions are circulating as to how safe the chemicals in these products really are. With research ongoing, institutes such as The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, urge caution until the risks to users and those that may passively breathe in the vapor are understood.

But health concerns are not the only thing that vapers now have to consider.

Legislation governing things like the use and purchase of e-cigarettes and similar products can differ considerably between countries, something many travelers do not realize.

In Thailand, a ban has reportedly been in place since 2014. Yet a quick scroll through vaping forums suggests a great deal of confusion and misinformation surrounds the ruling.

To clarify the situation, consulted an official from the Royal Thai Consulate in Los Angeles, who confirmed that it is indeed illegal to bring vaping devices and e-liquids into the country.

But a lack of awareness means many are still in danger of falling foul of this law. If convicted, travelers can face a decade in prison according to advice issued by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Langley Travel manager Pat Waterton described the near-miss her nephew had in the country that resulted in GBP125 (US$165) fine:

“I got a message from my sister saying James had been arrested in Thailand because he had an e-cigarette. He managed to pay the policeman who had told him he could go to jail.” She added:

“Ten years seems a long time to go to prison for smoking an e-cigarette.”

Elsewhere similar restrictions are in place. Tobacco Asia reports an all-out ban on “e-smoking” in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Next year, Hong Kong could join this list, according to South China Morning Post. E-liquids containing nicotine (classed as a poison) are already illegal. Anyone that ignores the legislation faces a hefty fine of HKD100,000 (US$12,800) or even a custodial sentence up to two years long.

But the article warns a full ban may be imminent amid fears that e-cigarettes can lure adolescents and children to try smoking and develop a nicotine addiction.


There is a fear that vaping will lead kids to take up smoking. Source: Shutterstock

Malaysia, on the other hand, has moved to regulate vaping. Malay Mail Online reports Health Ministry will now monitor the sale of e-liquids containing nicotine and make them available at licensed pharmacies only.

So how can travelers stay on the right side of the law?

Unfortunately, there is not a comprehensive database or resource that documents the laws governing vaping in every country – although some websites offer a limited overview.

The onus is therefore on travelers to check with their booking agent, an official agency, or another reputable source, before they travel, as to the specific rules in force in the country they plan to visit.