Opinion: Thailand, stop blaming alcohol as a source of every problem

Thailand recently announced that nightlife establishments will stay closed until Jan 15, walking back previous statements made by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha when he said that they would be allowed to open by Dec 1.

The reason? To stop the tide of Covid-19 from spreading further.

The nightlife businesses in Thailand have now been closed for over 300 days in total and counting and with almost-to-nothing support from the government.

Many bars have bid farewell and closed, many nightlife professionals—bartenders, musicians, and beyond—have not found ways to make ends meet and continue to struggle.

From as young as I can remember (I’m 28), growing up as a Thai in Thailand, I’ve kept hearing this slogan used very widely. It goes “Jhon, Khried, Kin Lao” (จน เครียด กินเหล้า). Poor, stressed, drink [alcohol], is the direct translation.

That slogan, from an advertisement by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, was broadcast on television regularly. It was to raise awareness to Thai people that alcohol drinking, if unchecked, could end up ruining your life and keep you in a cycle of alcohol and stress.

The video starts off with the main character saying, “Poor, stressed, drink [alcohol]!” Then, he says again, “Poor, stressed…” But this second time, instead of “drink [alcohol]”, he goes, “quit drinking [alcohol]!”

What follows, after he quit drinking, is a transition to prosperity. At one point the commentary even says “ชาติเจริญ” or “Nation prospers”.

The ad shows that if poor people who are stressed would just quit drinking, the nation would prosper.

This slogan is deeply planted into our brains, and we could cite it by heart. It paints a picture that drinking alcohol in this country is only for the poor and stressed bunch. It is considered a sinful thing to do. A lot of times when I come across a Thai guy on Tinder, his Tinder bio often states so proudly that he doesn’t drink (and oftentimes, also comes with “doesn’t smoke”).

To not drink alcohol in Thailand, apparently, is considered one of the highest achievements in life to some people.

So while other business sectors have been allowed to open back up, Thailand still continues to punish the alcohol industry. Last week, Prayut warned—more likely threatened—that the entertainment industry “shouldn’t be so selfish”, and to be careful of the [COVID] clusters that could happen because of their selfishness.

Look at Bangkok right now, are there actually any places that are considered “safe” from COVID? You could get it from eating at a restaurant without drinking alcohol. You could get it by using the bus. You could get it by going into your office. So why do we still keep blaming the nightlife industry? How exactly are they more exposed to COVID? Or is it simply just because, in the government’s eyes, drinkers are bad and reckless people?

Do you know how much tax an alcohol importer has to pay when they do shipping? Want to take a guess? On average 200-300%. And on top of many government departments, do you know who else also benefits from this tax? The Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

Yup, and they go ahead and use this money to make ads like, let’s quit drinking, drinking is bad for you and the nation.

And don’t even get me started on the Alcohol Control Act where the new draft wants to fine you for 500,000 baht for posting a photo of alcohol online.

Blaming alcohol as a source for every problem that occurs in Thailand is just plain lazy.

It doesn’t solve any real problems while the authorities can take some credit and look good doing it, simply because it’s so deep-rooted in Thai culture that alcohol is a very, very bad thing.

So yes, let’s just blame alcohol for every problem here. It will certainly shift the spotlight from the real reason Covid-19 has spread like wildfire this year.


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