Thailand sobers up: Slams brakes on extended alcohol sales hours

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

The Government of Thailand dashed hopes of extended alcohol sales hours, citing alarming statistics on road casualties and accidents. Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsutin announced the decision following a tense panel meeting at the ministry on Tuesday, asserting that public safety must take precedence.

“The ministry’s alcoholic beverage control committee reviewed road accident statistics and related legal implications, recognising the wide impact of this issue.”

Despite the committee’s firm stance, the matter isn’t fully settled yet, as five draft laws on alcoholic beverages are pending parliamentary review.

Currently, alcohol sales are restricted to 11am to 2pm and 5pm to midnight, amounting to a total of 10 hours daily. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs follow local jurisdiction regulations for their alcohol-serving hours.

Dr Thongchai Keeratihattayakorn, chief of the Disease Control Department, shared insights from a pilot project in major tourist hotspots, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Phuket, and Koh Samui, where alcohol sales were extended by two hours. Initiated on December 15 last year, the extension aimed to boost nightlife business revenues and tourism by allowing around 1,800 entertainment venues to remain open until 4am.

However, the results have been sobering. A survey indicated a significant increase in road accidents and fatalities, especially between 2am and 6am. This surge in accidents has cast doubt on the feasibility of extending hours in other regions.

Dr Kumnuan Ungchusak, a panel member, highlighted a 31% rise in road accident deaths in January in the pilot areas compared to the previous year, based on data from the Thai Road Safety Centre.

The restriction on retail alcohol sales between 2pm and 5pm, although not part of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, stems from a 1972 announcement by the Thanom Kittikachorn coup regime and has never been repealed, reported Bangkok Post.

ORIGINAL STORY: Thailand investigates extending alcohol sales hours for tourism

Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew announced the formation of a panel by the National Alcohol Beverage Policy Committee to investigate the proposed extension of alcohol sales hours in Thailand. This decision necessitates a comprehensive review of the existing laws and regulations surrounding the sale of alcoholic beverages.

The panel’s objective is to study the potential repercussions of extended drinking hours on public health and economic growth. At present, there is a lack of sufficient data for the committee to reach a concrete decision on this matter.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports predicts that the proposed policy change could boost the tourism sector’s revenue to 1.2 trillion baht (US$33 billion). It is estimated that food and beverage sales would contribute to one-sixth of this projected figure, approximately 200 billion baht (US$5.5 billion), reported Bangkok Post.

However, there are concerns about the potential negative outcomes of this policy. Cholnan pointed out an observed increase in accidents in the five provinces where night entertainment venues have longer operating hours. He stressed the need to determine if there is a direct correlation between these two factors. He clarified that there is no specified timeline for the completion of the study.

This decision follows the rejection of a similar proposal by a committee on alcoholic beverage controls last week. The committee cited potential adverse impacts on public health and social welfare due to longer drinking hours as the reason for their decision. Currently, the law permits the sale of alcoholic beverages between 11am-2pm and 5pm to midnight.

In response to the proposed changes, approximately 800 people from various temperance groups convened at the Ministry of Public Health to voice their opposition. Somsak Thepsutin, Deputy Prime Minister and committee chair, assured these groups that there would be no hasty decisions made on changing the policy.

The challenge facing authorities involves balancing the demands of tourism with local priorities while also addressing issues related to alcohol consumption. Thailand grapples with a high number of road accidents, with many attributed to drunk driving, as seen in incidents like the hit-and-run on Rama 4 Road where a traffic officer lost their life.

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Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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