Cabinet backs bill on alcohol control

The Cabinet yesterday approved a bill to control alcohol consumption and ban advertisements for alcoholic drinks.

Public Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla said the bill would provide comprehensive control of alcohol consumption and prohibit the sale of alcoholic drinks to people under 20 years old.

It would also set zones for alcoholic drink sales and consumption, he said, adding that sales would be banned near temples and schools.

Advertising would only be allowed in "private and closed" places. Beer gardens would be allowed if no logos or brands were on show.

The only exception is for ads on sports programmes broadcast live from foreign countries.

The bill will be submitted to the National Legislative Assembly for deliberation soon.

The Food and Drug Administra-tion (FDA) failed last year to enforce the proposal banning most alcohol ads.

However, the FDA and the Health Ministry's move has been aggressively opposed by alcohol manufacturers, who have sought every means to stop the ban.

The Council of State finally ruled that the FDA had no mandate to comprehensively ban alcohol ads.

As a result, the Public Health Ministry has instead introduced the Alcohol Control Act to continue pushing for a ban, which the ministry and many anti-alcohol groups strongly support.

Somchai Suthikulpanich, senior vice president of Thai Beverage Marketing - the producer of Chang beer - said the move would hit the alcohol industry like a tsunami.

"As a measure, the ban on alcohol advertising is far too aggressive. It would effect the advertising industry more than the alcohol industry," he said.

Annual alcohol advertising was worth about Bt2.6 billion, and if the ban took place, that sum would be used in other kinds of marketing activities, he said.

Chatchai Viratyosin, marketing manager at Singha Corp, the brewer of Singha beer, said he had predicted the bill would be approved but was worried that the ad ban would drive producers into a price war. "It is the only way to market the products due to the limitations," he said.

Another concern was that cheap alcoholic products from China would flow into the country, he claimed.

Chatchai said the government should solve the problem at its origin, by adjusting alcohol tax rate according to the percentage of alcohol.

Instead of reducing alcohol consumption, the ban would give an advantage to lao khao (white whisky), which had the highest sales in the country - without any advertising at all.

"It is unacceptable that we have to pay the price in order to benefit only one player," he said. Meanwhile, a source said Cabinet's review of the bill took a long time yesterday, as several members voiced concern that the ad ban and limits on alcohol sales might go against principles of free trade, while limiting the age of buyers might deprive people of their rights.

However, Health Minister Mongkol na Songkhla showed strong support for the bill, saying several studies had found that advertising alcohol could increase "new face" drinkers.

Some members were also concerned that the content of the bill authorises the minister to issue orders to add more bans.

From : The Nation
By : PLA
Date : Mar 14, 2007

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