Thailand gets tough on youth drinking

Revellers yesterday visiting Soi Cowboy, a small lane filled with pubs popular with tourists in Bangkok. Restaurant and bar owners fear the restrictions will devastate entertainment areas that make the Thai capital a tourist magnet and big money spinner.
Revellers yesterday visiting Soi Cowboy, a small lane filled with pubs popular with tourists in Bangkok. Restaurant and bar owners fear the restrictions will devastate entertainment areas that make the Thai capital a tourist magnet and big money spinner.ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE

Moves against illegal street racing, alcohol sale near schools, unis worry F&B players

The Thai government has issued tough nationwide restrictions on illegal street racing and the sale of alcohol near educational institutions as part of a crackdown on youth drinking.

The new rules are fuelling anxiety among Bangkok's restaurant and bar owners, who fear the restrictions will devastate entertainment areas that make the capital a tourist magnet and big money spinner.

An order published in the Royal Gazette on Thursday targets illegal racing and threatens to close down any establishment that sells alcohol near schools and universities or nearby dormitories.

It does not mention the boundary of these prohibited zones.

The order, which takes immediate effect, also threatens to revoke a bar or club's operating licence if it sells alcohol to minors under the age of 20, or if it sells alcohol beyond licensed hours.

Restaurants or clubs found to be excessively noisy will also have their licences revoked if they do not turn down the volume.

The order does not specify what "near" means with regards to sales of alcohol near schools. But legislative changes expected to be in force in the coming weeks will specifically ban the sale of alcohol within 300m of public and private universities, colleges and vocational institutes but exempts licensed hotels as well as designated entertainment districts like Patpong and Royal City Avenue in Bangkok.

According to national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri, the new rules apply to both existing and new establishments.

Restaurant and nightspot owners, who say they were not consulted about the change, warn it could smother Bangkok's famed nightlife. "It will certainly confuse the tourist," said Mr Malcolm Schaverin, 54, who owns Wolff's Jazz Bar and Grill in Sukhumvit Soi 11.

"If there is a blanket ban on alcohol over what looks like 60 to 70 per cent of Bangkok, it's going to be a dysfunctional city."

Tourism is one the biggest earners in Thailand's economy, which is projected by the central bank to grow 3 per cent this year.

If the rules are interpreted in the strictest sense, the restaurants in the popular Siam Paragon shopping mall, near Chulalongkorn University, may have to stop serving alcohol.

High-end restaurants - which may derive over half of their income from alcohol sales - may have to shut down, Mr Schaverin told The Straits Times. "Who wants to eat good food if they can't have a glass of wine?"

Thai Alcoholic Beverage Business Association president Thanakorn Kuptajit recently told the Bangkok Post 125,000 people could lose their jobs as a result of this ban.

But those who support tighter restrictions on alcohol think the long-term benefits of the ban outweigh its immediate costs.

As it stands, the sale of alcohol is only allowed from 11am to 2pm, and 5pm to midnight. But the number of new drinkers in the kingdom grows by an average of 250,000 every year, says Mr Theera Watcharapranee, manager of alcohol control advocate Stop Drink Network.

The network's own survey of 15 universities in Bangkok found that the number of establishments selling alcohol within a 500m radius has increased by an average of 72 per cent over the past five years.

According to a World Health Organisation report published last year, 70.3 per cent of Thais abstain from alcohol. Yet the average amount of pure alcohol drunk by each Thai aged 15 and older stands at 7.1 litres between 2008 and 2010. This is double the average figure for South-east Asia.

Drink driving is endemic, contributing to carnage on the roads during major holiday periods.

Over the five days of Songkran, or the Thai new year, in April, 364 people died in road accidents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Thailand gets tough on youth drinking'. Print Edition | Subscribe