Dear Phuket News: I’ve been hearing a bunch of rumours that the government has just made a new ban on eating, smoking and drinking alcohol at the beaches. Tell me it’s not true?! If so, it’s really bad news, especially for tourism and the economy. Just like thousands of others, I’ve been smoking, drinking and eating on the beaches here in Phuket forever, and never had a problem. When I’m on holiday, nothing complements the sun setting into the ocean better than slurping down a few Changs with my som tam and topped up with a ciggy as I enjoy the tide crashing onto the rocks... Now what am I supposed to do? Okay, banning umbrellas is one thing, but now food, cigarettes and beer – enough is enough! How can they just make up new laws like this without warning? Do they want to scare all the expats and tourists away? The way things are going here, I may just have to find a new vacation spot, maybe Bali or Vietnam. – Bangla Leroy
Dear Bangla Leroy: Thank you for your questions. Lately, we’ve received many similar questions and comments from other readers confused about the new beach order, and we feel that communication of the laws and regulations has been clumsy at best, especially from other media, who seemed to have caused more unnecessary confusion instead of clarity. In any case, we are happy to clear this matter up for you and all other tourists and expats who still don’t get it.
First and foremost, the government did not just make up new bans for smoking and drinking on Phuket’s beaches. In fact, restrictions on consuming these two types of products in all public places in Thailand have been in place for quite some time, even if the laws were not always enforced in the past.
In regards to food, as we reported on our front page a few weeks back (Volume V, No 8, February 20-26, 2015, or click here for online version), the act of eating has not been banned, despite other media reporting this. But what is restricted by the Public Health Act is the selling of food and disposing of food garbage in public, which has been a problem in Phuket. Thus, authorities have asked for cooperation for people not to bring large meals (and thus rubbish), but small snacks and other waste-free foods will be tolerated. Please read our original story for full details and references to the relevant laws on food in public.
As for the legislation on smoking and drinking, there are a few laws and public notices to be concerned with. First, for smoking in public, The Non-Smokers Health Protection Act, B.E. 2535 (1992) governs smoking in public, and it defines a “Public place” as “a place or any vehicle where the public is entitled to enter.” All beaches in Thailand are public places. As for the actual restriction on smoking in public, we must look to the Ministry of Public Health Notice (Volume 19) of 2010.
The notice includes two categories of restricted places. The first category are places where smoking is outright prohibited and includes:
1. Public Health clinics and hospitals, steam-rooms, herbal saunas, spas and Thai massage parlours
2. Primary and secondary educational facilities
3. Places of benefit to the general public, including private places such as factories, offices and markets
4. Inside vehicles and public transport vehicles including taxis and buses
5. Religious sites
The second category includes places that smoking is prohibited but may be allowed in a designated smoking section, as follows:
1. Any government or state agency office or facility
2. Post-secondary educational institution or facility
3. Petrol service station
4. International airport
According to the announcement, designated smoking areas must not be in any kind of building or structure (with the exception of international airports); must not be located at an entrance or exit; must be clearly marked (with a sign), hidden from view, and must not disturb or irritate any other person whatsoever.
Smoking in a non-smoking area carries a fine of B2,000; Landlords or tenants who fail to place signs in non-smoking and smoking areas also face a fine of B2,000; while landlords or tenants who fail to establish non-smoking and smoking areas in accordance with the announcement face a fine of up to B20,000.
As for the relevant law on alcohol, we look to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Act of 2551 (2008), which governs all aspects of the substance in the Kingdom.Regarding public spaces (including the beaches), the relevant sections are 27, 31, 39 and 42.
Section 27 covers the places you can’t sell alcohol as follows:
1. Temples or places of religious services
2. Public hospitals, clinics ... and drug stores ....
3. Public offices, save shopping or club sites ....
4. Dormitories ....
5. Education institutes ....
6. Petrol stations ... and shops within their precincts
7. Parks provided by the State for recreation of the general public
8. Other places determined by the Minister [of Public Health], with the approval of the Commission
And Section 31 outlines the places you can’t consume alcohol:
1. Temples or places of religious services, (except when part of a religious service)
2. Public hospitals and clinics
3. Public offices, save the sites of private residences, clubs or ceremonious parties
4. Education institutes (except at the sites of private residences, clubs or ceremonious parties or the education institutes where the studying of alcoholic beverage mixture takes place and which are licensed according to the law on national education
5. Petrol stations
6. Parks provided by the state for recreation of the general public
7. Other places determined by the Minister [of Public Health] upon advice of the Commission
Finally, Section 39 and 42 state that violating Section 27 and 31 carry imprisonment of up to 6 months in jail, a fine of up to B10,000, or both fine and jail.
In answer to your question about whether the government wants to scare away tourists – it’s actually the opposite. Their goal is to attract more tourists, especially the “quality” segment. This is why they are cleaning up the beaches, and starting to get serious about enforcing long-established laws.
They want to improve Thailand’s image and reputation, from being a lawless, wild country where anything and everything goes, to one of being a nice and orderly destination where everyone can feel safe knowing that law is respected. If the only thing you have appreciated about Thailand is smoking and drinking on the beach, then perhaps it is time for a change of scenery for you? Let us know how things go. – Editor