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A proposal by the director of the Office of the Alcoholic Beverages Committee Dr Samarn Futrakul to ban all alcohol beverages sales during the New Year holiday and Songkran festival is stiring up outcry with many business operators voicing strong opposition saying that it will severely affect their business and affect tourism.
But Public Health Minister Dr Ratchata Ratchata-nawin assured that the ban is still a tentative proposal which can be changed when it is to be debated by the Alcoholic Beverages Committee which he is chairman on December 19.
It is an undeniable fact that New Year and Songkran festival holidays are a time for celebration and rejoicing and alcohol consumption is the norm. But it is also argued that the major cause of road mishaps that claimed high casualties during festive season is drunk driving.
This led Dr Samarn, director of Office of the Alcoholic Beverages Committee to propose banning alcoholic sales during the two festivals.
However Dr Samarn assured, however, he proposed only banning of sales but did not prohibit drinking.
Customers still can buy before the banned time goes into effect, and then take them out for drinking during the festive time, he said.
But operators of entertainment venues located on Khao Sarn road are entirely against the proposed banning of alcohol sales from December 31 to January 1 as it will directly affect their businesses.
As they said their clients are almost exclusively foreign tourists and should the proposal be passed they intend to muster to rally against it.
“It will seriously affect us because foreign tourists drink a lot of beer. This proposal will mean that we won’t be able to sell beer at all! A lot of businesses here are against it and we will certainly be protesting it,” an entertainment venue operator at Khao Sarn road said.
What is peculiar about the proposal is that although sales of alcohol is banned, private individuals are permitted to bring in their own alcohol onto the premises of restaurants or entertainment venues for consumption. This seems preposterous as few, if any, restaurant owners will allow such an act, she said.
A regular foreign customer to Khao Sarn road also said, “I don’t see how any owner will allow such a thing. What if a customer was not hungry and did not want to eat but only wants to drink!
Furthermore the idea that customers can bring in their own alcohol that they had purchased previously, to drink at restaurants that are not permitted to sell alcohol themselves is ridiculous! Thai’s love to meet up with friends and have a drink, it is in their nature, ” one Thai customer said.
But locals are not the only ones against the proposal as almost all tourists regard the banning of alcohol during New Year holidays – a universal holiday celebration; as impossible to enforce.
They did say however that the banning of alcohol sales during important national dates such as during religious holidays was agreeable and understandable.
“Who came up with this idea? I don’t think such a proposal can be enforced because even if such a law were to be passed no one is going to pay attention to it!” said Yoann Chaouch, a French tourist to Khao Sarn road.
The tremendous public outcry regarding the banning of alcohol sales during New Year and Songkran has forced Dr. Ratchata Ratchata-nawin, the Public Health Minister, to come out and say that the proposal was just an idea to tackle the number of traffic fatalities as a result of drunk-driving.
He said that the proposal would likely not come out in time for this year’s New Year holidays as the Alcohol Beverages Committee is planning to meet to consider the measures on December 19.
Furthermore, if the committee endorses the measures, then the proposal will have to be presented to the National Alcoholic Beverage Policy Committee which is chaired by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha for approval.
“There are many different views on the issue at the moment. We will for the time being listen to all comments and opinions before making a decision.”
Under Dr Samarn proposal, violator faces six month imprisonment and a fine of a maximum 10,000 baht. The proposal intends to tackle sellers, not customers, he said.
However president of the Medical Council Prof Dr Sonsaj Loleka said no countries has ever come out with such proposal, no matter they be the United States or Japan.
They seriously tackle drunk drivers with heavy punishment outright and booking their records for life, he said.
For Thailand, he said it was the matter of no serious enforcement of laws that resulted in all measures becoming ineffective.