Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Monday moved to assure concerned civic groups, saying the ministry is firmly opposed to the proposal that would see the opening hours of night entertainment venues extended by two hours.
Mr Anutin gave his assurances to about 50 representatives of various civic groups who came to Government House on Monday to thank the ministry for prioritising the public's health and safety as the debate on extending the operating hours of bars and clubs across the country continues.
He said the ministry is against unrestricted access to alcohol, adding all senior public health officials share the concerns of temperance advocates that the longer opening hours will encourage binge drinking and drunk driving, which will in turn, drive up road accidents.
"Please be assured that public health officials are with [the civic groups] on the issue, and they will stand by this policy when I leave office," he said.
While it will help generate income for businesses, the public health minister said extending the operating hours of night entertainment venues is not a sustainable way of stimulating the economy before urging businesses to find an approach which won't harm public health.
At present, bars, clubs, and other entertainment venues are allowed to operate only until 2am. Businesses located in areas popular with foreign tourists have been calling on the government to allow them to stay open until 4am -- a push that is also backed by the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
The push, however, has been slammed by various temperance advocates, as well as government agencies -- most recently, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee, which rejected the proposal citing the potential increase in road accidents due to increased alcohol consumption.
The committee said after reviewing all possible impacts on health, society, and the economy, it suggested against extending the period of alcohol sales.
Currently, the law allows alcohol sales in two periods, 11am-2pm and 5pm to midnight for vendors and until 2am for night entertainment venues.
The proposal will be reviewed by the National Alcoholic Beverage Policy Committee headed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Dec 22.