BANGKOK — Restrictions on what can be written on booze product labels are here to stay following a court ruling that affirmed their legality, a top alcohol regulator said Thursday.
The 2015 law bans manufacturers from making a wide range of statements on their products, such as promises of “success in social or sexual life.” A group of booze makers sought, and failed, to have it repealed, but a trade rep said today they would file an appeal.
Alcohol Control Board director Nipon Chinanonwait welcomed the Administrative Court’s Wednesday verdict.
“Alcohol is not a product that should be traded freely,” Nipon said. “If we allowed it to be traded freely, there would be many problems.”
The legal challenge to the ban was jointly filed by Bacardi, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and Thai Asia Pacific Brewery, who produce Bacardi, Johnny Walker, Chivas and Heineken, respectively. They argue that the law restricted freedom of speech and unfairly obstructed their commerce.
But the court ruled the restrictions were not considered a violation of rights, and affirmed them as lawful. Nipon said the ruling is in line with his agency’s principles.
“We are not violating anyone’s rights,” he said in an interview. “We don’t ban selling. We don’t ban drinking. We only restrict the impacts alcohol may have on consumers.”
The 2015 regulation outlaws any remarks on alcohol labels that promise “success in social or sexual life,” lead to “degradation of the national culture,” or cause “division or loss of unity among the people.”
The same law also bans words such as “finest” or “premium,” and prohibits images of athletes, singers, cartoon characters and other “idol” figures to be printed on labels. Violators face one year in prison and a 100,000-baht fine.
Thanakorn Kuptajit, president of the Thai Alcohol Beverage Business Association, said the ruling would complicate international trade, since foreign booze companies are affected by the ban.
“The World Trade Organization sees it as TBT, or technical barrier to trade,” Thanakorn said. “They have held meetings about this regulation 11 times already, and they still could not find a solution.”
Thanakorn said his group has filed a separate legal challenge to the label ban, but he expected that the result would likely mirror Wednesday’s ruling. He said the booze makers will file an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.
“The case is not over yet. We will ask the Supreme Court to reconsider,” Thanakorn said.
Thanakorn added that he saw a silver lining in Wednesday’s ruling. While the court affirmed the ban, it stressed that remarks which do not exaggerate qualities of alcohol can be placed in the labels.
“The court verdict makes the issue more clear, which is good,” he said.
Although alcohol is widely consumed in Thailand, it is strictly regulated by a number of laws, including the major 2008 Alcohol Control Act, which bans any attempt to “encourage” the public to drink.
Last week, Nipon’s agency took legal action against downtown open-air beer gardens on the grounds that they entice drinking. He also warned of future crackdowns on such beer gardens outside Bangkok.