Ban or promote online liquor sales? Vietnam lawmakers at odds

By Viet Tuan   April 12, 2019 | 04:07 am PT
Ban or promote online liquor sales? Vietnam lawmakers at odds
Vietnam consumes 4.1 billion liters of beer a year. Photo by Shutterstock/Kittibowornphatnon
Lawmakers Friday hotly debated a draft law prohibiting online liquor sales, with some arguing it could prove counterproductive.

The bill, proposed by the Ministry of Health last year, will prohibit online sales of beverages with alcohol content of more than 15 percent. Beverages with less than 15 percent alcohol content can be sold online, but should be blocked from the electronic devices of people under 18.

Nguyen Thuy Anh, Chairwoman of the National Assembly (NA) Committee for Social Affairs, said that the regulations are meant to prevent the negative effects of alcohol in "the most effective and inexpensive way."

Nguyen Thanh Hai, Chairwoman of the NA’s Ombudsman Committee, agreed, saying the bill is needed so that citizens can live in an environment without negative effects of alcohol.

She cited data from the Ministry of Health that says Vietnam’s revenue from alcohol is VND50 trillion ($2.15 billion) each year, but spending on diseases caused by alcohol is even higher at VND65 trillion ($2.8 billion).

Thirty-six percent of traffic accidents and 30 percent of incidents of public disturbance relate to alcohol, she said.

But several other legislators opposed the bill saying it goes against the Industry 4.0 era that the country is striving to join.

Promote, not ban

Deputy Chairman of the NA, Phung Quoc Hien said that alcohol sales on the internet should be promoted, not banned.

"Cashless payment will actually help control the sales of alcohol," he contended.

The bill will also prohibit advertisement of beverages with less than 15 percent alcohol content on TV and radio between 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day, and before and after programs for children.

Billboards promoting beverages with less than 15 percent alcohol content must be at least 500 meters away from education facilities and entertainment areas for people under 18. Internet ads must be blocked from the devices of people under 18, the bill says.

Alcohol cannot be sold to people under 18, pregnant women and people with signs of being drunk.

The bill also proposes that special consumption tax on alcoholic drinks be increased to reduce alcohol consumption.

Some legislators wondered who would supervise the sales of alcohol for people under 18, as salespeople might not obey the regulation.

Nguyen Khac Dinh, Chairman of the NA's Committee of Legal Affairs, wondered whether international football programs be cut if they have beer advertisement between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Pham Thanh Binh, Chairman of the NA's Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children, asked of if the sale of alcohol was prohibited near universities, should faculty teachers go far away from the campus if they want to celebrate a graduation ceremony with some liquor?

Legislators started debating the bill last year, and will continue their debate in the NA session in the second quarter of the year.

Alcohol, especially beer, is widely consumed in Vietnam. Data collected by the Ministry of Health shows Vietnamese citizens consumed 305 million liters of liquor and 4.1 billion liters of beer in 2017, making it the biggest alcohol consumer in Southeast Asia and third biggest in Asia after Japan and China.

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