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PHUKET OPINION: Put the alcohol ban on ice

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PHUKET: While possibly well-intended, the recently announced ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in Thailand’s 110 national parks is just one more addition to the long and growing list of regulations that are difficult or impossible to enforce – and that probably do more harm than good.

The new rule, announced over the recent holiday period, calls not only for a ban on alcohol sales inside the parks, but also forbids tourists entering the parks to even bring in any alcohol. (See front page story, current issue of the Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers click here to download the full newspaper.)

This is an unnecessary over-reaction by the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, which issued the statement hurriedly in the aftermath of the December 26 stabbing death of a student camper in Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima.

It is difficult to believe the department really thinks that simply banning alcohol in areas under its jurisdiction will end violent encounters on park grounds or keep alcohol outside the unguarded borders of these vast areas.

Thailand’s Marine National Parks alone cover more than 10,000 square kilometers, 18 times the size of the Phuket mainland.

Alcohol has been used by virtually every culture since the beginning of recorded history, and going well back into the archaeological record. Over-reactionary attempts to ban it have done far more harm than good, the ultimate example being the US Prohibition of the 1920s that sparked a surge in alcoholism.

The National Parks Department might think the ban will make their life easier. It won’t. Park rangers will now have to spend far more time searching for alcohol and fining the few violators they can catch, while huge volumes are smuggled in under their noses.

Wouldn’t that time be better directed toward more pressing needs, such as conserving the flora and fauna that are the parks’ raison d’être?

If the department and other agencies can’t even keep coral-killing trawlers from illegally operating inside the parks, it is hard to imagine how they expect to keep bootleggers out.

Will they really be rummaging through private yachts and charter boats to confiscate a few bottles of wine or beer from shocked Phuket and Khao Lak tourists on dive trips to the Surin and Similan Islands?

But perhaps park visitors need have no fears as the ban will also introduce a reliable new source of recurring revenue for the Thai brigade of ‘enforcers’ not averse to accepting incentives to look the other way. “May we offer you a cold one, Sir?”

 

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