Cheap alcohol in Thailand is one of the country’s great attractions and my personal joys, but The World Health Organisation (WHO) released its “2014 Global report on alcohol and health” on May 12 and Thailand was a standout: not in a good way, either.

The average quantity of pure alcohol consumed by each Thai adult, 15+ years, increased from 6.8 to 7.1 liters between 2008 and 2010. The global average is 6.21 litres, but for Southeast Asia it’s 3.4 litres – less than half of Thailand’s. Thailand is now #4 in the world for alcohol consumption.

This is startling considering that 70% per cent of Thais are recorded as abstainers. The remaining 30 per cent more than make up for those who don’t drink. The total alcohol consumption for Thai male drinkers (those who DO drink) was 30.3 litres of pure alcohol. For women (who have to do all the work in Thailand), it’s only 5.2 litres.

Thailand alsos received the highest rating – 5 – for the number of “Years of Life Lost”. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver were 28.2 per 100,000 citizens for men, 8.7 for women. Interestingly, the death rate for road accidents using the same criteria was 70.3 for men and 18.5 for women.

In Thailand, 73 per cent of alcohol consumed is spirits, 27 per cent is beer, while wine is less than 1 per cent. Neighboring Myanmar’s alcohol-use profile resembles that of Western countries: 6 per cent wine, 12 per cent spirits and 82 per cent beer. For the United States it’s 12 per cent spirits, 40 per cent wine and 48 per cent beer.

At me neighborhood liquor store Hong Thong Whisky (35% alcohol) Thailand’s top-selling whisky is 239 Baht for a 700 ml bottle. 40% proof Song Sam Whisky goes for 271 Bt ($9)! Rongkaw white spirits (known locally as lao khao), the world’s second largest spirits brand, is just 99 Bt ($3.30) for 40%. Yikes!

In the tiny wine section I found Siam White Blend 2012, 750ml, 12.5% alcohol for 299 Bt, or $10. That’s a no-brainer.

Alas, in the notoriously corrupt Thai Government the Thai Public Health Ministry has no input on excise tax policy. Then-Finance Minister Kittirong na Ranong said excise taxes are set “according to ministerial regulation”; i.e., behind closed doors.

Health groups helped push through some regulations, the most ridiculous of which is the ban on the sale in stores of alcohol from 2 – 5pm. The concept behind this move was that it would prevent “schoolboys” from obtaining alcohol. It has been a complete failure. The notion of using excise taxes to move drinkers towards beverages with lower alcohol content (as practiced in the UK) has not yet made it onto the Thai government’s agenda, apparently. The WHO report can be viewed here. 

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