Vietnam considers ban on sidewalk liquor sales

By Manh Quan, Thanh Nien News

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Drinking at a sidewalk eatery has become a common habit for many Vietnamese people. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach Drinking at a sidewalk eatery has become a common habit for many Vietnamese people. Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach

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A draft decree proposing a ban on the sidewalk sale of alcohol has been criticized as ill-conceived and unfeasible.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade, which is drafting the document, also proposed banning liquor sales to pregnant and breastfeeding woman and people who exhibit “signs of being drunk and/or diseased due to alcohol abuse”.
A ministry official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the draft document "reasonably" proposed a ban on alcohol sales in schools, governmental offices and hospitals.
“But it would be difficult to ban alcohol sale on the sidewalk because street food has become a major part of the consumer culture,” he said. “Such a ban may be possible in some countries, but not in Vietnam."
According to those who wrote the bill, drinking has a long history in Vietnam and plays a major role in the culture. Vietnamese often drink on special occasions like New Year's, death anniversaries, funerals and gatherings of friends and family.
However, a society can only hope to establish a healthy relationship with drinking when it does a good job of regulating the production, trade and consumption of alcohol.
Excessive drinking is harmful to one's health and has been the cause of many traffic accidents, in addition to having a great impact one's ability to work, according to the drafters.
Besides banning alcohol sales on sidewalks and to certain groups, drafters also proposed banning the online and vending machine sales of beer and liquor.
According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam has produced 2.02 billion liters of beer so far this year, a 6.5 percent increase over last year. The country ranked third in Asia in beer consumption after China and India in a 2011 survey by the Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings.
The proposed ban on the sale of alcohol on sidewalks and to specific groups prompted several controversies.
Vu Vinh Phu, chairman of the Hanoi Supermarkets’ Association, said the draft decree is simply unfeasible.
“It is not much different from similar unfeasible drafts we've seen in the past, including an 8 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales, a calendar regulating the use of on vehicles with odd or even license numbers and a plan to disqualify narrow-chested people from obtaining a license to drive a motorbike,” he said.
He said new policies should focus on other urgent issues like traffic safety, environmental pollution, and food safety--issues that kill thousands of people every month.
“Lawmakers don't address these significant problems but propose impractical policies instead,” he said.
Phan Chi Dung, an official at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, was also doubtful about the draft’s feasibility.
Sidewalk beer sales should be regulated more closely, but only in terms of hygiene, he said.
“Identifying a drunk person or a pregnant or breastfeeding woman is complicated. Currently, there is no criteria for this identification,” he was quoted by news website  VietNamNet as saying.
He said lawmakers should have consulted experts in this area before coming up with the proposal.
“It would be very difficult to monitor and enforce this ban if it took effect. At issue here is the self-awareness of the sellers and buyers.”

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