The Thai Alcohol Business Association, or TABA, announced last Friday, June 9th, 2023, that it supports an amendment of the country’s current alcohol control regulations to benefit brewers, distillers, tourists, and, consumers.
However, the Thai Ministry of Public Health has proposed several new controversial regulations that according to critics could seriously harm the tourism and hospitality industry. Supporters of the proposals claim they will help curb alcohol-related problems and drunk driving.
Ms. Khemika Ratanakul, president of the association, said that some provisions of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act should be changed to make them aligned with the current social and economic context, especially the prohibition on sales of alcoholic beverages between 2 PM and 5 PM as well as restrictions on advertising and mentioning or displaying alcohol on social media.
The 2PM to 5PM alcohol sales ban has been in place for about fifty years and the exact reason for the ban is unclear in the current day with various reasons and myths given often by officials and residents of Thailand. The law especially causes confusion and disappointment in tourism zones.
As for overall advertising restrictions, these have often caused problems over the years with it causing questions around if someone simply posting on their personal social media that they were having a drink with friends was a violation.
Ms. Khemika highlighted three key areas of the law that require prompt revision, according to her. These include time limits on alcohol sales especially in tourism zones, the need to address the discretionary powers granted to authorities in interpreting the law, and the reconsideration of substantial fines imposed on those who do not obey relevant law enforcement’s orders.
She raised the issue of excessive power granted to authorities in interpreting the law, expressing doubt about the assurance of impartiality and fairness in their decision-making. She also claimed that law enforcement often used vague Thai alcohol laws as a way to collect bribes and encourage corruption, especially from bars and night clubs.
“Some regulations are like loopholes that harm the country’s tourism industry while also allowing for bribes and corruption,” she said. “The country requires clear and concise regulations and there is no room for ambiguity.”
The association said it also opposed a new version of the Alcohol Control Act proposed by the current Ministry of Public Health, adding it was too harsh and will ruin both Thai consumers and business operators, particularly those who run bars and restaurants.
These proposals essentially, notes The Pattaya News, would mean that consuming alcohol after midnight in restaurants and bars would be against public health ministry rules. Therefore, regardless of legal closing times or if a venue stopped serving alcohol at midnight, any consumption of alcohol at a venue could lead to fines and raids by relevant authorities and officials.
The proposal has been widely panned by hospitality and tourism associations still recovering after Covid-19, who have been fighting for a year to legally extend legal closing times and alcohol drinking hours in entertainment zones. However, anti-alcohol associations have continually fought any changes the law, even in tourist areas like Pattaya and Phuket, claiming it will increase drunk driving.
“Alcohol control measures must be tailored to the current context of both livelihoods and careers. Through collaboration to find effective solutions from various sectors, the regulations must promote fair competition and foster responsible drinking behaviour,” Khemika said.
The Thai Alcohol Business Association supports the Move Forward Party’s progressive liquor bill as it will create fairer rules for the production of alcohol, give consumers more freedom, and reduce corruption, according to them.
The Move Forward Party also supports removing the long maligned 2-5 PM alcohol sales ban, extending legal closing hours for bars and restaurants, and making areas like Pattaya a 24 hour entertainment zone as requested by nightlife operators.
Move Forward also has proposed to end alcohol bans on religious holidays, saying it violates religious freedom guaranteed in the Thai constitution and hurts tourism and hospitality business owners.
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