On the occasion of the the 9th anniversary of the Alcohol Control Act in Thailand, it’s time to take stock: liquor businesses are still the champion in challenging the alcohol law with false advertisement, with price discounts, sales promotions, with selling alcohol to children under the age 20, with violating the time periods when alcohol sales are allowed, and with violating prohibited sales locations. This is a shocking and sad track record, especially since these violations can still be found numerously.
Therefor, it’s still urgent to propose the strengthening of the law and improving the laws on sales bans concerning location and days.
The results of monitoring by civil society sector
Mr. Khamron Chudecha, Thailand Alcohol Watch, has been monitoring and complaining about the violations conducted by liquor businesses nationwide. Over a 9-month period between May 2016 and January 2017 Thailand Alcohol Watch has submitted 232 complaints about law violations with 42 cases being sent to relevant authorities and 11 cases were praising the performance of government agencies.
The most frequent type of violation was concerning distribution, consumption and promotion of alcoholic beverages in government places and in the form of marketing at beer gardens, live concerts, government agency parties, followed by alcoholic beverage promotion and advertising in marketing activities in private areas or restaurants.
It has been noted that liquor businesses focused on large integrated marketing activities by advertising from campaigning events, promotions in restaurants all the way to relationships with the government, funds, and local political mechanism in organizing events with the claim being to provide revenue for public use.
It was also found that there were activities penetrating schools in the form of activities hidden in various courses,” said Mr Chudecha.
The role of government officers
The Office of Alcoholic Control Committee, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has announced that Thai laws regulating alcohol will have been around for 9 years on February 14th.
An analysis of the state of the art shows improvements. For example, the rate of alcohol use has slightly gone down when compared with the past significant rise but the major concern is with the youth.
The purpose of the legislation is to organize and control the sale and marketing of alcohol, to be at the right time and in the right place.
From the statistics, it was found that there have been more than 15,483 law violations with 1,471 being on the part of the government. When violations as per provision was reviewed, it was found that
- Article 32 violations with regard to false advertisement and promotion of alcohol use saw the biggest increase, to a staggering 951 cases – which means a 66% increase.
- Next are violations of Article 30 with regard to discounts, give away, buy one get one free practices etc. We saw 182 cases of violations – which means a 13% rise.
- Article 27 violations with regard to selling alcohol in prohibited locations increased 11% to 153 cases.
- Article 28 violations with regard to selling alcohol on prohibited days and times rose by 5% to a total number of 78 cases.
- Article 29(1) violations with regard to selling alcohol to minors increased by 3% to 46 cases.
- Article 31 violations with regard to alcohol use in prohibited locations were found to be at 26 cases – which means a 2% increase.
Dr. Saman Futrakul, the Director of Office of Alcoholic Control Committee said that the problems and barriers for the implementation of surveillance and law enforcement are as follows:
- Attitude of Thai societies still consider that alcohol consumption is normal.
- Alcohol advertising and marketing strategies of alcoholic beverages business have become more pervasive with communication patterns and more communication channels such as social media by focusing on the attitudes of youth.
- The operators of retail stores, shops, and community stores still lack the knowledge and understanding of the law resulting in violations of the law and some fail to cooperate in the proceedings as they should so they become a tool of the major operators in publishing, advertising, and marketing communications of alcohol beverage.
- The improvement of alcohol beverage advertising contributes to law interpretation problems such as interpreting advertising signs, and logos by diverting to neutral messages and other brands.
- Authorities have yet to focus on the control of alcohol first.
The direction to go in order to strengthen the alcohol control act is to increase the days and locations were alcohol consumption and sales are prohibited and to limit easy access for children and minors such as the sale of alcohol in the manner or method of direct sales to consumers or sales by any other means with buyer age being uncontrollable.
Academic surveillance of Big Alcohol
Dr. Nittha Runkasem has presented the results of monitoring alcohol marketing communications of the alcohol industry in 2016 by categorizing marketing activity as follows:
- Celebrity endorsements refer to using famous people to stimulate the want to consume, buy, and promote alcohol. This stimulation activates the latent third parties that are normal people. The message is usually associated with direct sales promotions.
- Alcohol event sponsorship is using special events either by itself or as part of an organized group of sponsors and continue to focus on music and sport particularly Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities that use clientele or story creation to become news.
What is remarkable is the focus is on the school age youths even more with the hope of creating misconception on the effects of alcohol use as creating friendships, better days and good times.
- Netizen approach refers to marketing communications to reach the target group that is the youths or teenagers who are the new alcohol users in urban communities due to the media usage habits of consumers have changed or the so-called netizen that often use event creations for online communication such as new campaigns and new flavors. The consumers are then pulled into the online world or alcohol sale spots: shops and entertainment venues.
Exposing Big Alcohol trends
The alcohol businesses marketing trends in 2017 are as follows:
- Masked alcohol marketing refers to using covert marketing communications through other products such as water or through a store or other partners along with fronting by doing CSR.
The main target group is the youths in order to expand the market share and expected profitability.
- Dragging it online refers to using online communication as the main communication channels to be able to communicate every day and everywhere.
This can be done in the form of communications through official fan page and ‘Real-world tie-in’ to provide a space that invites and encourages the consumption of alcohol.
- Using all channels of communication in a multi-platform approach i.e. special event advertising, promotion activities including direct and indirect product advertisements through various media such as entertainment venues and teen flea markets.
- Loyalty creation is done through various online activities resulting in gaining consumer data and insights that can be quickly marketed to more specific consumers because the consumers are choosing to forward messages by tagging and mentioning.
However, the government and the agencies involved are asked to focus more on law enforcement such as overseeing marketing communications for both liquor businesses and entrepreneurs.
Big Alcohol is deliberately looking for gaps and loopholes in the law. The alcohol industry is also exploiting and abusing bureaucratic mechanisms by employing powerful lobby groups in marketing activities and public relations work. This way they seek to create pressure and buy silence to not enforce the law.
Businesses are asked to respect the law, practice good governance, and to not exploit societies in the 9th anniversary by intoxicating or arranging activities involving children, youths and education facilities, both directly and indirectly.
Additionally, the law enforcement mechanism should be used by provincial alcohol control committee including Bangkok and governmental officials should give priority to the enforcement of law and fully perform their duties under the law and to not be fooled by CSR activities organized by alcohol businesses.
Additionally, the public is asked to watch and file complaints about alcohol law violations to stop it before it starts.