On February 6, 2008, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Act (ABCA) was enacted into law. The ABCA both introduces a number of new measures and codifies certain regulations that were already in effect.
The ABCA provides for the designation of alcohol free zones, restrictions on the methods for selling alcohol, and limits on advertising alcoholic products. All beverages containing alcohol, with a few limited exceptions, such as medications and certain other narcotics, are subject to the same treatment. This uniform treatment of all forms of alcoholic beverages contrasts with the law of many other jurisdictions where spirits containing high levels of alcohol are subject to more regulation than beverages of relatively low alcohol content, such as beer and wine.
The consumption and sale of alcohol are prohibited in the ABCA’s alcohol free zones. Such zones include temples or other places where religious rites are performed, medical and public health establishments, drug stores licensed to sell medication, governmental and educational settings, as well as public parks and oil and gasoline stations. Ministerial regulation may also impose limits on when alcoholic beverages may be sold, regardless of location.
The ABCA prohibits the use of price discounts, as well as offering a gift or other benefit in exchange for purchasing an alcoholic product (or for returning the label or container of such product). Furthermore, alcoholic products may not be actively hawked or peddled regardless of the location, nor may they be sold via automatic vending machines.
The limits on advertising are fairly brief and will most likely need to be clarified by ministerial regulation. Advertisements may not include an image of the alcoholic beverage itself or its container, name or mark, in any manner that boasts of the product’s efficacy or in a way that is meant to induce others to consume such beverage. The limits appear to apply to all forms of advertising, including television, newspapers, magazines and billboards. For example, a magazine advertisement or television commercial featuring individuals enjoying a beer at a pub would most likely be prohibited, however, an advertisement containing an image of the product in a manner that is not actively promoting the consumption thereof, together with a warning of the potential health risks from consuming alcohol, as required by the Thai Food and Drug Administration, might be acceptable.
The ABCA also contains an explicit exception for advertisements which merely provide information of an informative or socially beneficial nature unrelated to the alcoholic beverage, and provided that such advertisements do not carry images of the actual product or its container. For example, an advertisement in a public relations notice promoting an upcoming cultural event which discretely displays the symbol or trademark of an alcoholic beverage or of its manufacturer would likely be acceptable.
There is a general exception whereby any advertisement that originates from outside of Thailand will not be subject to the ABCA. However, the scope of this exception is currently subject to debate, and it is hoped that ministerial regulations will provide further guidance. For example, advertisements included in imported newspapers and magazines should fall under this exception. It also seems likely that advertisements forming part of the background of an actual telecast, such as are often displayed on or around the field of play during a sporting event, would be permitted (however, it is not clear if the exception would also extend to actual commercials shown by the sponsors of such a telecast during a break in the action).
Civil and criminal penalties apply to manufacturers, vendors, consumers and advertisers who violate the ABCA. Such penalties depend on the nature of both the violation and violator, reaching up to 500,000 Baht per occurrence and may include potential prison terms of one year as well.