Definitely not the news we’ve been waiting for.
Rumors have been swirling for a few weeks now that a law that will criminalize online sales of alcohol to consumers is in the works. Now, the Ministry of Public Health has announced its decision to go forward with the law, starting today (Jul 2)—all that's left is for it to be made official in the Royal Gazette.
Deputy minister of public health Sathit Pitutecha cites the spike in online alcohol sales during the Covid-19 pandemic as one of the major reasons behind the ban, as reported by TNN Thailand. Anyone caught attempting to defy this soon-to-pass law will either face up to six months of jail time, a B10,000 fine, or both.
Officials claim that banning online alcohol sales will act as a deterrent to underage drinkers. They point to the ease of online alcohol sales, which often feature tempting promotions without enforcing any strict limits on the buyer’s age, location, or the time of day that the purchase is made, creating difficulties for officials seeking to keep track of sales. Banning online alcohol sales is therefore seen as a solution to block these supposed loopholes.
For consumers, this will essentially mean no more alcohol deliveries from Tops or distributors like Beervana, Gulp, and Wishbeer. What it means for small and independent businesses that have relied on direct-to-consumer sales to stay afloat through the greatest economic crisis of our lifetime remains to be seen. We spoke to Jerome Le Louer, co-founder of Wishbeer Home Bar, to get his take on the matter.
What do you think of the whole situation?
I think it goes against any logical decision on the subject. More flexibility should be given to help businesses that are struggling, especially alcohol distributors and retailers that are the ones who suffered from the biggest impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, with the closure of all bars and restaurants for several months.
If Thailand is pushing for social distancing, e-commerce should be promoted even more, not the contrary. It also goes against bigger plans like Thailand 4.0 and the digitalization of the economy that is a big government initiative. Also, the Internet is global, what can prevent an online shop based out of Singapore or Hong Kong from selling to Thai consumers? They won't be able to go after them and will further decrease their control over online sales, and will increase grey market and/or illegal sales. Technically Wishbeer’s supplier is not in Thailand, for instance. The same thing goes for online advertising. Big brewers and alcohol companies have been advertizing for a long time from abroad. Nothing will change for them.
We are willing to cooperate with health departments to promote responsible and moderate drinking, as this is something we also believe in, as we understand that excessive consumption is a danger. Increasing cooperation between health officials and retailers will definitely give better results than prohibition.
What does this mean for smaller businesses that sell alcohol?
It will be more difficult for small distributors to do business in Thailand if they’re unable to promote their products online. Large companies can manage with offshore structures for advertizing and products like ‘water’ to promote their brands, so it will become an even more monopolistic market. In the end, customers will have less choice than now.
What do you think of the future for these businesses? Do you see a way out or any solutions to make this better?
I guess the solution would be to legislate online sales instead of forbidding them. Online retailers can still control age (if that’s an issue), or time for delivery. The bigger question is: does it even make sense to forbid alcohol sales between 2-5pm? What’s the rationale here? Maybe the law needs to be re-worked and legislation needs to be made for online retailers, but forbidding it purely won’t solve anything. Everybody will go back to phone orders now.
We also spoke with a representative from the online community for beer lovers, Prachachonbeer. Here’s what they had to say:
I think the decision to pass this law is unfair, because the first thing the government should do is to approach us, the reviewers, page owners, and business owners, to come to a consensus with agreements that make sense to both sides. I just think that it’s really unfair for them to suddenly pass this law without asking those who will be affected directly for the worse.
The ban will, for sure, affect the distributors and business owners directly, especially online. We do have to admit that a lot of people ordered alcohol online to drink at home [during the lockdown]. But conversely, I think it was a good thing, since it limited a lot of drink-and-drive [incidents], and we saw little to no accidents related to that. I just really don’t understand why drinking at home can be such a bad thing. Well, sure, it makes sense for them to say that banning online sales will make life harder for underage drinkers, but I think they should actually focus more on strengthening the law they already have (no alcohol purchases for those aged under 20), not banning online alcohol sales.
For sure. I just think that all business owners and distributors of all scales should have the right to compete and advertise freely and in a fair manner. As for alcohol reviewers, I really think that’s it’s their right to do whatever makes them happy as long as they don’t harm others. I mean, the ban really does mess with our freedom to conduct business, and consume, along with other things.
Just being real here, but we’ve always asked for solutions that are fair. Before this law was passed, we went to them to express our opinions, but they didn’t really care. I just want them to think of us as normal people, normal citizens. I think they’ve never really looked at or listened to what the citizens truly want. In my opinion, it would be better for them to listen to us, and try to understand us more, and not just pass laws without asking those who will be directly affected. We should all try to find the best solutions for both sides. If that does not happen, all of those who are troubled because of this shall come together, and just take this directly to court.