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Vietnam’s U18 liquor sales ban impractical, experts say

People hold glasses of beer at a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam June 24, 2017.
People hold glasses of beer at a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam June 24, 2017.

Experts say it will be difficult to implement an age-based ban on selling liquor, better options are needed.
They are also saying that an emphasis on education and raising awareness will have greater impact in dealing with the problem of liquor abuse.

A draft bill on the prevention of dangers of alcohol being compiled by the Ministry of Health proposes a number of prohibitions, including: promotion in any manner of liquor with alcohol content of 15 degrees or above; usage of positive phrases like “medicinal alcohol”, “nutritious alcohol” on product labels; advertising of alcohol during television prime time (6-9 p.m.); sale of alcohol to persons under 18; and sale of alcohol on the internet.

Kieu Anh Vu of law firm KAV Lawyers said it was very necessary to bring legal measures against the dangers of alcohol, because the harm it was causing was indisputable.

Vu said he supported the draft bill’s ban on alcohol consumption by government officials, civil servants, and employees during working hours or between shifts during the working day; by operators of motorized vehicles; and by people under 18.

“These regulations are appropriate to ensure social order, safety and health of the community,” he said.

However, Vu was concerned about how age checks would be carried out. “Will vendors have the right to check people’s age by looking at their identity cards, or just by asking questions?”

Psychologist Nguyen An Chat, on the same page as Vu, also questioned how alcohol sellers could correctly verify the age of each individual.

“Some 15 year olds look very mature while some 20 year olds can look underage. Would everyone wishing to purchase alcohol have to produce identity documents?” he wondered.

An online right?

Lawyer Vu Tien Vinh, director of Bao An Law Firm, said: “Buying alcohol over the Internet is more convenient than going to shops or supermarkets. If online sale is prohibited, people can and will continue to buy alcohol through traditional channels.

Vinh said that in reality, it was too easy for buyers to obtain alcohol via traditional channels such as supermarkets and other dealers. When consumers can buy alcohol anytime, anywhere, the ban on online sales will not have much of an impact on its consumption, he said.

“Detecting online transactions on the sale of alcohol to punish with fines is very difficult. It will not be hard for consumers to get around this regulation,” Vinh added.

Sociologist Trinh Hoa Binh concurred, saying identification of illegal alcohol sales online was very hard to do.

“Internet sales are the current trend. Will the prohibition of selling alcohol online go against this?” asked psychologist researcher Nguyen An Chat.

Given the implementation difficulties, Binh proposed that instead of prohibitive regulations, authorities should instead start with education, build a set of cultural values for the modern Vietnamese society that discourages alcohol abuse.

Chat supported this. He said education should begin at home and continue in schools so that each person was aware of the danger of drinking, so that people would exercise restraint and control their consumption.

Psychologist Khuat Thu Hong said many countries have faced difficulties in implementing regulations prohibiting or restricting the sale/use of alcohol, but over time, strict compliance has become the norm.

“In Vietnam, for these regulations to be implemented well, close monitoring and regular communication on the harms of alcohol will be essential for the people to understand and co-operate,” said Hong.

In Vietnam, about 800 deaths per year are related to the use of alcohol, including beer. Almost 30 percent of social order disruption cases are also related to alcohol consumption.

In 2017, Vietnamese people spent close to $4 billion on alcohol. The cost of dealing with alcohol-related traffic accidents was estimated at about one percent of the GDP the same year.

The alcohol industry contributes about VND50 trillion ($2.17 billion) to the state budget a year and provides about 220,000 jobs directly or indirectly.