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Thailand: Make merit, abstain from drinking for Buddhist Lent

The Nation, June 30, 2006

Campaigners say liquor takes heaviest toll among the poor

Bangkok, Thailand -- Alcoholic drinks cost Thailand up to Bt1 trillion (US$ 275 mil) a year in losses through accidents, crimes and health problems, Thai Health Promotion Foundation president Suchai Charoenratanakul said yesterday.

The Excise Department reported that Thais last year consumed 10,000 million litres of alcoholic drinks and paid about Bt187 billion for liquor, said Suchai, who is also a caretaker Deputy Prime Minister. Although the economic loss has not been quantified precisely, it should come to between Bt500,000 billion and Bt1 trillion a year, he said.

The foundation's research centre for alcohol-related problems linked consumption to poverty, saying low-income people spent at a higher ratio on drinks compared with those with bigger salaries.

Suchai's comments were made at the beginning of the foundation's campaign to get Thais to stop drinking during the three-month Buddhist Lent starting on July 11 to pay tribute to the His Majesty the King on the 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne.

The foundation's second vice president, Udomsil Srisangnam, said a pledge to refrain from drinking during the Buddhist Lent this year had been woven into a two-section booklet. One part of it is a postcard carrying HM the King's picture taken when he was a monk and the other a balance sheet for the devout to record their expenses during the period to nail down their expenditure - or savings -on alcohol, he said.

The pledge booklets will be distributed through 10,155 health stations nationwide and from the offices of non-government organisations, he said. Requests for the booklets can be channelled through www.stopdrink.com or www.thaihealth.co.th.

The campaign will also co-operate with the Office of National Buddhism to get 30,000 temples across the nation to urge - temporary or permanent - alcoholic abstinence, he said.

It has also joined forces with 19 cooperatives to campaign for "white taxis," implying vehicles with drivers refraining from drinking and helping the anti-alcohol campaign.

Taxi driver Wichai Pahuwattanakorn said most of his colleagues spend between Bt35 (US$ 1) and Bt150 (US$ 4) a day on liquor. When they get drunk, they cannot work and create problems for their families.


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