Mr Somchai said the department has noticed a loophole in the current tobacco law, which does not define e-cigs and barakuproducts as new types of tobacco-related goods intended to replace conventional cigarettes.
“We are still uncertain whether we will allow them to be imported legally or not, but if we decide to allow it we will have to tax them for sure,” said Mr Somchai.
“We have decided to take the first step to treat them properly by adjusting the legal definition of tobacco to cover all of these items. It not only concerns electronic cigarettes and baraku, but everything that has been created to be consumed in place of cigarettes,” he added.
Under the Tobacco Act 1966, tobacco products are defined as those made from tobacco leaf only, hence the Act cannot govern cigarettes in electronic form or water pipes, also known as baraku, which are also now available in electronic form.
“Once we define these goods as taxable items, it will be easier for us to tax them later if we allow them to be imported legally,” said Mr Somchai.
While new ways of smoking and “vaping” have been available in some other markets worldwide for years, it is illegal to import such items into Thailand, resulting in them being smuggled in.
“It is quite complicated as tobacco is a sensitive issue here. We have to study thoroughly the pros and cons of allowing them to be imported legally,” he said.
It is still debatable whether e-cigarettes or baraku are healthier alternatives to cigarettes and cigars.
The amended law on excise tax has been passed by the Council of State after earlier being approved by the Cabinet. It is now under consideration of the National Legislative Assembly. If the NLA approves the revised law, it will come into effect 180 days after it is announced in the Royal Gazette.
The excise tax restructuring is part of the Finance Ministry’s comprehensive tax reforms, while the Tobacco Act is a part of the tax reform plan. The legal amendments will switch the excise tax basis to state-recommended retail prices from ex-factory prices. The change is expected to come into force by mid-2017.
Switching the method of calculation will standardise duty collection and create more fairness and transparency, said the director-general.
Under the current system of calculating excise tax, importers have used loopholes to understate the value of costs, insurance and freight (CIF) in order to reduce their tax burdens.
But the excise duty calculation based on state-recommended retail prices will make it harder for importers to evade making tax payments, said Mr Somchai.
Even though state-recommended retail prices are normally higher than ex-factory prices and CIF value, he said the change will not further burden importers, as the Excise Department will mitigate the effects by lowering the current rates.
Apart from the Tobacco Act, six other laws will be integrated into a single act to standardise and simplify the tax collection process to facilitate the new tax calculation structure.
They are the Liquor Act of 1950, the Playing Card Act of 1943, the Excise Tariff Act of 1984, the Excise Tax Act of 1984, the Allocation of Excise Tax Act of 1984 and the Allocation of Liquor Tax Act of 1984.
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