Attempts by the Public Health Ministry to propose a new draft law to intensify limits on alcohol consumption have caused a commotion.
If passed into law, the draft will prohibit customers from drinking alcohol in restaurants and entertainment venues from midnight.
The current regulations prohibit the sale of alcohol at midnight, but after making prior payment before the deadline, customers may continue drinking until 2am, when the venues close.
The operators are concerned that the proposed measures will deal a heavy blow to tourism.
The draft will give enormous power to health authorities, who will be able to act like police in raiding entertainment venues, confiscating beverages and summoning them for interrogation. The bill also greatly toughens penalties concerning advertisement regulations on alcoholic beverages.
Entertainment business operators are crying foul over the move courtesy of a committee tasked with controlling alcoholic beverages under the ministry. This, in turn, is a response to the so-called Progressive Liquor Bill, drafted by the Move Forward Party (MFP) in its bid to de-monopolise the alcohol industry and promote local beverages produced by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as a way to boost the local economy.
Apart from fears about the impact of the proposed law on businesses, operators are complaining about the ambiguity of the broadness of certain offences, such as the offence of "promoting alcohol drinking". If strictly interpreted, an individual or individuals posing in a picture with a glass of beer or wine on Facebook, even without showing brands, could be punished.
Business operators are also uncomfortable with the public hearing process that allows those involved to submit their opinions by June 18. In their view, such a process is only a ceremonious effort.
In fact, the existing anti-alcohol measures issued by the Public Health Ministry, including a ban on sales from midnight to 11am and 2pm-5pm, have long been criticised as missing the point and for being impractical, if not useless.
In addition, a blanket ban on alcohol sales on major Buddhist holidays like Visakha Bucha causes unnecessary inconvenience to foreign tourists and infringes upon the rights of non-Buddhists.
Instead of sticking to such impractical measures, the Health Ministry should work with other state and non-state agencies and concentrate on underage drinking and drunk driving problems that continue amid lax law enforcement and graft.
Drunk driving is blamed for 11% of road accidents during the last Songkran period, which saw 232 deaths and more than 17,700 injuries.
The country must adopt and be committed to zero tolerance for underage drinking and drunk driving. This can be achieved if law enforcement officers get tough with those who violate the law.
They have to ensure that DUI accidents causing injuries or deaths, in particular, are non-negotiable. The legal process must also be swift to set an example.
At the same time, the government should encourage supplementary measures like safe taxi services for those who are drunk. With a regular and standard service, drinkers will not need to drive. This can be a win-win measure for all.
It's necessary that the Health Ministry pays heed to all the concerns so as to create a better law, one that is practical and efficient.