Friday, November 25, 2005

gov severely restricts alcohol sales in thailand

Want booze in Thailand? Now you can only buy it from 11am-2pm, or 5pm-midnight. The only real change is that previously, alcohol sales were permitted until 2am. The midday rule has been in effect for some time.

Midnight ban on alcohol now in effect

The Nation, November 18, 2005

All stores as well as venues serving drinks across the country have to stop selling alcohol at midnight, instead of 2am, effective as of yesterday, the Excise Department said.

The two daily periods when alcohol for personal consumption can be sold are 11am-2pm and 5pm-midnight, director-general Utid Tamwatin said. These hours do not apply to transactions in wholesale quantities.

The sale of liquor would also be banned starting next year at specified places including mini-marts at 10,000 gas stations nationwide, stores in school campuses and places of religious worship, he said.

Incidentally, there are time restrictions on the sale of cigarettes as well, though these have yet to be publicized.

The popular arguments against the new law center around it being 'bad for tourism' as well as an 'unreasonable restriction of personal liberties.' Let's take a look.

Bad for tourism: Believe it or not, I don't think most tourists come to Thailand for the drinking. It just isn't that big a deal. The lager louts on Patong barstools are the most visible type of tourist, but for every one of them, there is undoubtedly a whole family of family vacationers safely tucked in bed by 12 at their upmarket hotel. Which type of tourist would Thailand rather have? It's doubtful you can encourage both.

Although I am sure many regular tourists will have an annoying 12:15am moment at 7-11 (it happened to me this week), I don't think this is going to be a major issue except for the drunks. And frankly, Thailand has had enough of the drunks. Shift the entertainment focus away from booze, trannies, and cheap hotel rooms, and you will see a boost in tourism revenue, not a decline.

Restriction on personal liberties: Well, if we are going to ban drunk driving and heroin sales, then the only remaining question is not whether the government has the authority to moderate individual behavior, but rather, where the line is. The new law goes further than we have seen in Thailand, but arguably this is not a case of the government wildly overstepping its bounds.

At the end of the day, it's hard to argue on the side of cigarettes and alcohol, even if you're someone like me who indulges in both. There just isn't any upside to them, though they are a nice consolation if you've missed the boat on a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.

But I do wonder if the new laws (which are meant to curtail consumption) will simply push much of that activity indoors, or further down the back alleys of Sukhumwit and Thonglor. There will also be an effect beyond the bars, as a good part of the nighstcape here like the late night eateries and markets depend on bar clientele. For many who make a living at these non-bar businesses, the employment alternatives are scarce.

The police will undoubtedly make some cash in bribes during the transition period, but over time that will dry up as the law becomes solidified, just as the 2am closing time became a hard rule in most police districts several years ago. Sure, exceptions will remain, and a few more cops will be spotted driving BMWs, but that in itself is not sufficient reason to oppose the law.

In any event, let's hope some good comes of the hassle and we see a drop in drunk driving deaths in 2006.