Alcohol Control Policy Under Thai Military Government
After the Yingluck’s Government has been dissolved and taken over by a Military Government last year due to continuous conflicts since 2006 (Taksin’s government has been dissolved during that time and he is the brother of former Prime Minister Yingluck). There have been a lot of interesting things happening which affect the alcohol control policy in Thailand – in the following ways:
- Intensified law enforcement: We are all aware that the weakness of law enforcement is the main cause of the problem that makes it difficult to control the alcohol in Thailand. Although we do have an Alcohol Act, but it still depends on the Minister of Public Health to take it either seriously or not from time to time.
Since we have the Military Government, it has been announced that all military officers are one of the government officers that have been given the power and authority to enforce the law and control all vices, such as nightclubs, and liquor shops – especially those located near educational institutions. Law breaker can now expect to be banned and their venues will be closed for at least 5 years instantly.
As you can imagine, this intensified enforcement has a strong effect on alcohol providers and entrepreneurs. They start to realise that the Thai alcohol law must be followed. Moreover, if any of the officers have neglected their orders and authorities, there will be consequences for them, too. So we could probably say that this government has stepped in and played their role, for example also through encouraging police officers to help raising awareness toward this issue. However, the question remains: if this current government ends, will this intensive enforcement be maintained? Even so, the 300 metres away from educational institution measure has been hold for now but they choose to emphasize on the law enforcement instead.
- To have more alcohol control measures: such as the prohibition of selling and consuming the alcohol beverage in public spaces including public transport (trains, boats, piers, and bus stations). And the prohibition on using celebrities, such as actors, sportsmen, or singers on the packages and labels of alcohol products etc., as such measures could help enhancing the regulations of alcohol use and retail to keep public spaces free from alcohol harm.
Obviously, to be unable to use sport star players and actors on their products, makes a huge difference both for the alcohol industry and for society. Society would benefit, because less appealing marketing means less alcohol harm. But the alcohol industry is filing a complaint against this measure to the WTO, calling it a “trade barrier”. Therefore, we need to staty active and follow the process closely. The measure is supposed to come in effect within 180 days.
It seems this government has given more opportunities to increase the measures, and it’s about 8 measures by now.
- To increase the excise tax of alcohol and tobacco to support The Sport Funds: (using earmarked tax) which is similar to ThaiHealth, by increasing 2% of the product price and directly invest it to support sport activities.
But the fact is that the alcohol industry has been promoting through their own Corporate Social Responsibility activities, such as sponsoring sport events and the sport rising stars, consequently the public attitude towards the alcohol industry has been increasing positively and it appears like they are a good business. People think that “because of their support, that’s why we have a great sport player for our country”. The media keep adding to this false narrative unfortunately.
In the beginning of this year, the Ministry of Public Health has held meetings to receive comments as to improve the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. 2008 to be more intensive as to have a total advertising ban, which would limit sponsorship from alcohol business for events which is currently one of their advertising strategies. It turns out that the sports media did not agree and went aggressively against this measure. Big Alcohol finally managed to successfully put this measure on hold.
- The drunk driving must be levied the driving license and imprisoned immediately without penalize and probation due to the drunk driving accident in Chiang Mai which caused 3 dead bodies on May 5th, 2015: with the agreement from the Government, they have come to receive the file from the victim directly. However, the judgement will be decided by the judges which we need to work harder to make it happen. But lately, we can see that there are a lot of the drunk driving imprisoned immediately cases occurred more frequently, this means that the judges have also gradually agreed to use this intensive measure. It’s the reason why we believe that if we change and make it clearer on the Act., this measure will be more effective than ever and the judge can apply it without hesitation which will be our next step.
These four main measures of the Alcohol Control Policy have occurred during the first half of this year.
But the opposition to policy measures that promote health and well-being doesn’t rest. Now in August, another major event happened: aggressive lobbying is mounted to withdraw the imposition of the “sin tax” for ThaiHealth within four years. The organization behind this lobbying attempt is the tobacco industry, which often and routinely works together with Big Alcohol, as they have been attempting to overthrow this fund for a very long time. They are making the claim that there is no efficiency in using this fund, that it wastes fiscal discipline, and lessens the tax. This claim goes against all evidence we have.
Right now, the government has confirmed that they’re not going to overthrow the fund. But they will investigate the utilization of the fund instead.
During this period of time, Thailand has become more sensitive and fragile due to the on-going conflict inside the government which still hasn’t been resolved. Nevertheless, the Alcohol Control Policy has made some progress. But we cannot rest since there are still a lot of lobbying attacks especially against ‘the total ad ban’ and concerning ‘the rescission of ThailHealth fund’. We need to watch the situation closely and continue our heart-driven to promote health and development in Thailand, through evidence-based alcohol policy measures.