BANGKOK – Thailand announced on Wednesday it will impose fines and prison sentences for smoking in the country’s most popular beaches, where cigarette stubs have become a growing environmental problem.
The announcement came with a 90-day warning period, effective as of today, and includes a public awareness campaign.
Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), found an average 0.76 cigarette stubs per square meter during a study at Patong beach in Phuket island, one of the country’s most popular tourist resorts.
This figure implies over 100,000 cigarette butts dropped along a 2.5 kilometer long stretch of coast, excluding those washed away by the sea.
Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate and absorb part of the 4,000 chemical substances present in tobacco – including nicotine, tar, and ammonia – and take anything from one to 10 years to decompose.
The smoking ban-on-the-beach, to be officially enforced as from February 2018, foresees fines of up to 100,000 baht ($3,000) or one year in jail for violating the new ruling, effective in five states, to include the major tourist resorts of Phuket, Pattaya, and Samui.
DMCR director general in Phuket, Jatuporn Buruspat, told EFE the proposal ratified Tuesday included a Memorandum of Understanding with Thai authorities detailing a 90-day awareness campaign -starting Wednesday- before the ban is fully enforced.
Authorities have erected semi-transparent cabins – similar to a bus shelter – on Patong beach for smokers.
Thai Police will also designate special smoking zones with suitable ashtrays, according to Buruspat.
The policy aims to develop a sustainable tourism and restore some of its most visited beaches.
Yuthasak Supasorn, head of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, said their beaches were among the best in southeast Asia and needed preserving, adding that the smoking ban would contribute to maintaining a clean and secure environment and promote a more positive image of Thailand.
In October, the tourism ministry cut its 2017 tourist arrival estimate from 35 million to 33-34 million. Even so, these are still
record numbers, surpassing 2016’s 32.6 million tourists.
Tourism has become a cornerstone of Thai economy, in part due to increased arrivals from China, with tourism contributing around 12 percent of Thailand’s GDP.
In the future, this smoking ban will be extended to all beaches, which is currently effective in public parks, offices, restaurants, nightclubs and public transport.
Thailand signed in 2005 the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.