Alcohol Law to Go to Council of Ministers by Week’s End

A draft of Cambodia’s first alcohol law—which if passed would introduce a drinking age of 21 and ban the sale of alcohol between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.—will be sent to the Council of Ministers by the end of the week, Health Minister Mam Bunheng said Tuesday.

Mr. Bunheng, whose ministry drafted the law and will be charged with enforcing it, said an inter-ministerial committee had already met to discuss and tweak it.

“We will send it to the Council of Ministers by the end of this week,” he said.

According to Mr. Bunheng, the law aims to protect Cambodians from overindulging.

“It is important that this law focuses on educating people on how to use alcohol, because when we use alcohol too much, it will affect our health,” he said.

If the 39-article law is approved by the Council of Ministers—and then passed by the National Assembly—Cambodia will become one of the world’s most restrictive nations in regard to alcohol consumption. Along with the minimum drinking age of 21, which is imposed by only a handful of other countries, it would also place bans on drinking in public spaces.

According to the draft, Article 4—which covers any beverage with an alcohol content level above 1 percent—distills the law’s essence.

“The focus of the law is the alcohol industry and the people who distribute alcohol, meaning the wholesalers, importers and vendors. Other areas of focus are advertising, promotion and marketing, and sponsorship activities,” the article says.

The law would restrict the consumption of alcohol in public spaces including health institutes, educational facilities, parks and religious buildings.

One notable provision, which could significantly impact nightlife in the country, is Article 13, which imposes a “ban on the sale of all alcoholic beverages between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.”

The article adds, however, that “establishments will be able to apply for approval to operate during those hours.”

In articles 30 to 35, the state acknowledges that enforcing penalties on drinkers would be difficult, and that fines would place an additional burden on already disadvantaged citizens. It says it will therefore regulate the industry that produces and sells alcohol.

Article 30 outlines the penalties that would be imposed on those that fail to label alcoholic beverages with clear and informative lists of dangerous ingredients and their corresponding health impacts.

“Local producers and importers from abroad that distribute and sell alcohol that do not implement this law…face one to six months in prison and a fine of 4 million riel [about $1,000] to 20 million riel [$5,000],” it says.

The draft alcohol law was announced in June at a press conference during which a panel of experts pointed to research showing that 96 percent of Cambodians were in favor of the government tackling alcohol abuse, which the World Health Organization says is on the rise.

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