Fixing flaws in Thailand's booze law
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Fixing flaws in Thailand's booze law

Sixteen years after the Alcohol Control Act was enforced to curb youth drinking, consumption among youngsters remains as high as ever, highlighting the law's ineffectiveness.

The national health survey in 2021 is revealing. It showed that 390,000 youths in the 15-19 age group had consumed alcohol in the past year, with 31% of them being new drinkers.

Meanwhile, deaths from alcohol-induced accidents have steadily increased over the years.

While the loss of loved ones in fatal road accidents is immeasurable for their families, reckless drinking costs the country over 170 billion baht annually. This includes 54 billion baht from road accidents, 94 billion baht from health impacts, and 24 billion baht from injuries and crimes.

Furthermore, unclear advertising and labelling regulations have allowed officials to interpret the regulations subjectively, leading to power abuse.

Change is long overdue.

The public had high hopes for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act when it was enacted in 2008 to regulate alcohol consumption, provide treatment and rehabilitation for addicts, and reduce the social and economic costs of drunk driving.

Now that it's clear that the alcohol control law has failed to do its job, the government needs to fix the loopholes in three key areas -- youth protection, social cost reduction, and transparent regulations -- to make the law effective.

To protect children and youth, the law must increase the penalties for those who sell alcohol to youth under 20 by suspending their business.

The duration of the suspension should be determined by the court based on the damage, while repeat offenders should have their licences revoked altogether.

Next, monitoring measures against underage alcohol sales must be strengthened.

We should learn from other countries' success. In the United States and Finland, for example, community networks team up to monitor and report underage alcohol sales to the relevant authorities.

Here, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee should promote public participation by providing digital platforms similar to Bangkok's Traffy Fondue app to report misconduct. Underage alcohol sales will decline if violators face real punishment.

Comprehensive and stringent measures are mandatory to mitigate the adverse impacts of drunk drinking. These include better rehabilitation for offenders, fairer compensation for victims of alcohol-related accidents, and stricter penalties for drunk driving.

For starters, the government should involve the Thai Health Promotion Foundation to do these tasks. The foundation's support can also help increase the number of alcohol checkpoints to help reduce road accidents.

At present, the alcohol control law lacks clear guidelines on compensation for victims of drunk driving, especially in fatal accidents. This is unacceptable.

For fair compensation, the alcohol control law should be amended to align with Section 420 of the Civil and Commercial Code, which allows courts to set fair compensation that reflects the true financial impact on the victims.

Another way to remove irresponsible drivers from the roads is to increase the number of points deducted from driver's licences based on their blood alcohol concentration.

For example, deduct 4 points out of 12 for a blood alcohol concentration of 50-79 mg%, 8 points for a blood alcohol concentration of 80-99 mg%, and deduct 12 points and suspend the driver's licence for 90 days for blood alcohol concentration over 100 mg%.

In addition, a new checkpoint strategy is needed to make drivers aware of the real possibility of being tested and prosecuted for drunk driving.

Importantly, the government must rethink the "open until 4am" policy for pubs. According to the Disease Control Department, drunk driving accidents mostly occur between 6pm and 6am. After allowing pubs to stay open until 4am (from January to February 2024), however, the proportion of drunk driving accidents increased between 2am and 8am by 0.23% to 12.72%.

Road Safety Group Thailand; Road Safety Policy Foundation estimates that extending pub hours without strict law enforcement could result in a 27% increase in serious damages from drunk driving, leading to an additional 10-20 deaths and injuries per day. If ten people die each day, the daily loss is at least 67 million baht, which most likely outweighs the commercial benefits of extended pub hours.

Unclear alcohol advertising regulations need to be fixed to prevent officials from abusing their authority. The new rules should balance regulatory measures with citizens' rights and freedoms, with an emphasis on youth protection, transparent law enforcement, and the use of discretion only with essential matters.

The amendment should also clearly specify which types of advertisements are illegal. For example, Finland's Alcohol Act clearly defines what kinds of alcohol marketing are banned.

Meanwhile, alcohol advertising and sales promotion in South Korea are governed by the National Health Promotion Act along with the Liquor Tax Act and advertising standards. The legislation bans misleading alcohol advertisements that could impact public health and clearly outlines the prohibited content.

In addition to clear advertising rules, Thailand should introduce regulations for online advertising. To effectively oversee the content of alcohol adverts on digital platforms, regulators could draw on the European Union's Digital Services Act to apply locally.

Next, amend the regulations on labelling to ensure accurate information for consumers. This involves revising Section 26 of the alcohol control law and the 2015 Alcohol Beverage Control Committee's regulations for clear and standardised labels to reduce the authorities' subjective interpretations. This can be done by following examples from the Excise Department and FDA labels.

Importantly, fix the law to prevent abuses of power. Clear guidelines and regulations will minimise opportunities for misuse of authority.

Sixteen years on, it's clear the Alcohol Control Act needs an overhaul. Real change requires stringent regulatory measures and active community involvement. By closing loopholes and enforcing stricter controls, we can protect our youth and reduce the social costs of alcohol.

Thanthip Srisuwannaket is a Senior Researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). This article is partly based on the study: 'Review of Alcohol Control Policies and Measures to Promote Balanced Social and Economic Development in Thailand'. The full report can be downloaded from this link the TDRI website. Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the 'Bangkok Post' on alternate Wednesdays.

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