Updated: July 2022
As I sat in the cafe, without thinking my hand slipped to my pocket. I took out my vape device, raised it to my mouth and inhaled, savouring the delicious nicotine-infused vapour as it hit the back of my throat.
Then a loud voice interrupted me.
“Oi, you do know you’re not allowed to vape in here!?,” said an angry man who was much too large to argue with.
I apologised and sheepishly slipped my vape back into my pocket. To be honest, it’s not the first time I’ve vaped where you’re not supposed to. And because vaping is such a habit, sometimes I am not even aware of I am doing it.
It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. But I (and you too if you’re a UK vaper) am lucky. Because in the UK, most of the time the worst that is going to happen is a telling off. That’s not the case everywhere in the world. In some places you could be landed with a fine. You could even end up in jail - and some vapers have.
Here’s some of the worst places I've heard of, based on a mixture of research and the many stories I have heard from vaping travellers.
Also see: The Most Expensive Places to Vape.
Dubai is part of the UAE, which forbids vaping. But Dubai seems to take a particularly aggressive attitude towards vape devices.
Many travellers have had their vapes confiscated even when they are in transit to a completely different destination. It doesn’t seem to be applied consistently though, and some travellers have reported using their devices in the smoking lounge at Dubai airports.
According to the website Singapore legal advice, it’s illegal to:
- Buy vape devices
- Own vape devices
- Use vape devices
Breaking the law is punishable with a fine of up to $2000.
It gets worse, though. Buy vapes online and ship them to Singapore and you could face a fine of up $10,000 and/or up to six months in jail. Do it twice and you face double trouble, leaving you with a potential maximum penalty of $20,000 and up to a year’s jail time!
It’s not clear what the policy is on transit, but on our 2018 travel blog Fig reported that customs officials tried to confiscate his vape batteries. He managed to persuade them they weren’t vape batteries, and was eventually let off with a strict warning and an instruction not to bring them to Singapore on his return flight.
3. Qatar Airways
Vaping is forbidden on pretty much every airline now. It’s a widely flouted law, though, with many vapers choosing to stealth vape or take a few sneaky puffs on the loo.
One airline where you definitely don’t want to take the risk is Qatar Airways. Commenting on our travel blog, Judjellago reported spending 28 hours in a Qatar prison after being caught vaping on the plane. He also got banned from Qatar Airways despite having three more connecting flights and was forced to buy new tickets to continue his journey.
It’s not just vaping on the national airline where you will have problems too, as the British Foreign Office warns that vape devices and juice may be seized and confiscated in Qatar too.
4. Hong Kong
The next one is particularly ironic because Hong Kong is part of China, where a massive vape manufacturing industry is based - and, indeed, where the modern electronic cigarette was invented. Nevertheless, you could officially find yourself faced with a fine of up to HK$100,000 AND up to two years in jail.
5. Punjab, India
India’s not known for its positive stance towards vaping, but the Indian state of Punjab must have one of the most extreme cases of punishing vapers.
In April 2016 25-year-old Parvesh Kumar was sentenced to three years in jail and fined 1 lakh (approximately €1,300 at the time). He’s mentioned as an e-cig retailer, but only possesed 1 device and eight cartridges. The court added:
E-cigarette contains nicotine in chemical form, which is highly addictive and potentially lethal. The youth take to such kind of addictive and potentially lethal products, and the offenders involved in promoting and selling such products should be dealt with sternly by law for the welfare of the society.
Good to see they’ve done their research...
At least in theory, vaping in Thailand could land you in jail for ten years!
One vaper in Thailand told me that enforcement is not always consistent:
The draconian restrictions are indeed in place, but enforcement is a bit hit & miss. Usually the local coppers (BiB = Boys in Brown colloquially) will use it to extort a big "fine" (tea money) when they catch someone in possession.
While enforcement is not always consistent, vapers have been arrested and put in prison, and some have had to pay large fines. Thai vapers are careful and use aliases when discussing vaping online. In short, be careful, and try to avoid vaping in Thailand if at all possible.
Australia is a new entry to the list, but its draconian penalties mean “the land of opportunity” has become a nightmare for vaping travellers. You’re only allowed to vape if you have a prescription - if you don’t, you could face up to two years in prison for acquiring/using/possessing e-liquid that contains nicotine. And if you import e-liquid without a prescription, you could face a whopping $222,000 fine.
In practice, the harshest fines are not commonly enforced - although several individuals have been fined thousands of dollars for importing nicotine-containing e-liquid. While the black market is flourishing under the regime, do be aware that black market liquid will not have undergone the same strict checks and emission testing enforced in the UK.
See our Why Vape Bans Don't Work post for more information on the problems caused by the Australian vaping ban.
How a concern for health became a criminal activity...
Switching to vaping, according to Public Health England, is at least 95% safer than smoking. Smoking, meanwhile, is estimated to kill between a third and half of users.
If you’re a vaper in the UK, one of the most vape-tolerant countries in the world, you can be glad that the evidence-based approach our government has taken means we can vape without fear.
But for many smokers around the world, taking sensible steps to save their health means breaking the law and risking fines or even imprisonment. For the first time in many countries, the healthy approach is an illegal one, even while cigarettes remain legal.
And that’s just nuts.