The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is launching a crackdown on hundreds of unlicensed tattoo parlours across the capital after finding only 50 were properly registered.
"Any shops found operating without a proper licence will be shut immediately," Bangkok deputy governor Thawisak Lertpraphan said on Wednesday, adding that he ordered all districts to inspect tattoo parlours.
The way tattoo parlours operate are considered to pose possible harmful health impacts. Operators need to obtain legal permits issued under the 1992 Public Health Act.
Tattooists found flouting the health law may face a maximum jail term of six months, a maximum fine of 50,000 baht or both, Mr Thawisak said.
The BMA however would give a reprieve by allowing tattooists to come forward and seek registration, he told media after inspecting tattoo parlours on Khao San Road on Wednesday.
Khao San Road in Phra Nakhon district is one of the places tourists go to get tattoos.
According to the BMA, only 50 tattoo parlours in Bangkok are properly registered under the 1992 Public Health Act, 17 of them are located in Phra Nakhon district, the rest are scattered across the city.
However it is estimated there are more than a thousand tattooists operating in the capital, according to deputy governor Thawisak.
The BMA crackdown is in response to health scares fuelled by false news that four women died after contracting HIV after getting tattoos from the same place.
Nonthiwat Chantharaprasit, 50 the owner of a tattoo parlour called Up To You Tattoo on Khao San Road, said he had been operating for 12 years and most of his customers (90%) were foreigners.
Most of them don't ask to see the business operating licence or question how clean the equipment is, he said.
Before tattoo artists at the parlour begin work, they always show their customers that all the needles that will be used on them are new and are taken out of their containers in front of the customers, he said.
The National Association of Thailand Tattoo Artists is fighting for a law recognising their work as a profession which requires them to apply for and hold a licence, Mr Nonthiwat said.