A draft regulation banning the late-night sale of alcohol has brought alcohol abuse into the spotlight but few believe it can be successfully implemented.
The owner of a convenience store on Hanoi’s Phung Khoang Street, Ms. Thao said that her family produces about 50 liters of rice wine for sale every day. Her customers are the owners of other shops, bia hoi, or eateries. Many students and workers live in the area and head to bia hoi and eateries in the evening to eat and drink, and wine and beer always accompany the food. “I’ve seen a few fights among men that have been drinking,” she said. “The area has been turbulent at times, as alcohol makes people unable to control their behavior.” This is not limited to Phung Khoang Street, of course. Sad stories of the effect of alcohol abuse are no strangers to Vietnamese people.
Alcohol consumption in Vietnam has actually reached alarming levels and is rising. A recent survey revealed that wine and beer consumption per capita stands at four liters per year and is forecast to rise to seven liters by 2025. Alcohol abuse has a range of serious impacts on human health, creates social problems, and impairs working ability. According to Dr Nguyen Huy Quang, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Health’s Legal Department, 70 per cent of traffic accidents are caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol, especially those between 6pm and midnight. Moreover, it’s also the cause of 70 per cent of domestic violence, including sexual violence.
With the aim of preventing such negative effects in the community, the government issued a national policy on preventing and combating alcohol abuse to 2020 and assigned the Ministry of Health to coordinate with the Ministry of Industry and Trade and relevant agencies to compile a law for submission to the National Assembly in 2016.
The Ministry of Health has recently suggested three plans. One allows the chairmen of city or provincial people’s committees to issue regulations on the banning of sales of wine and beer at certain locations and directs these localities to prevent and combat alcohol abuse, while another delays the banning of sales of wine and beer for the time being. The plan to be adopted, banning the sale of alcohol from 10pm to 6am, has been met with concern from the public, mostly relating to its feasibility. According to the drafting team, the ban will be imposed on bars and bia hoi first.
Mr. Pham Ngoc Lam in the capital’s Quan Nhan Street wondered how such provisions would actually be imposed, especially in rural areas. “What agencies will be around after 10pm to punish those buying and selling alcohol?” he asked. He also asked what would happen to people buying quantities of alcohol before 10pm and then drinking it into the early hours.
According to Mr. Khuat Viet Hung, Deputy Chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, the drafting team is seeking input from those affected, such as restaurants and bars as well as consumers. “The draft is well intended, but it’s also necessary to consider all the positive and negative aspects, such as whether it will affect tourism,” he said. “Another important thing is whether implementation and sanctions will actually have the desired effect.”
In a recent interview with a local newspaper, Mr. Tran Huu Huynh, the former Director of the Legal Department at the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), said that in terms of feasibility it will be very difficult for the regulation to be implemented in the beginning. Similar regulations have proven difficult to apply, such as the ban on smoking in public areas. “It is hard to imagine that regulations banning the sale of alcohol after 10pm will be successful from the outset,” he said.
Mr. Quang said that out of the three plans, this one is the best at this time. Concerns over whether it will affect tourism are unfounded. “Thailand and Singapore, who are both experiencing rapid tourism development, have also banned late-night sales of alcohol,” he said. The drafting team is acutely aware of the problems regarding feasibility if the regulation were to come into effect. “The most ideal plan is also the most challenging and requires a great deal of effort in implementation,” he said.
In order for the regulation to be effective and feasible, Mr Huynh said, there must be an inspection agency that detects violations but the draft fails to specifically address this issue. “It’s an obstacle to implementing the regulation effectively,” he said. “People are unlikely to simply follow the law on their own. It must be enforced, but no agency has been assigned or created to do this. So I think that there will be problems putting the regulation into actual effect.”
While there is some controversy over the proposed ban, most people acknowledge the harm alcohol abuse can cause. There is a Vietnamese saying that when you are in good health you have a hundred wishes, but when you are in poor health your only wish is to be in good health. Hopefully solutions to preventing alcohol abuse will be adopted to protect the health of the population.