New Drunk Driving Laws Tank Vietnam's Beer Sales

The beer industry is not pleased with what's going on in Vietnam. Not pleased at all. Beginning January 1, the Vietnamese government began a serious crackdown on the nation's alcohol consumption, doubling fines for driving under the influence (now as high as $1,725) and increasing the drivers' possible license suspension period from five months to two years. In the 20 days since it's been enacted, more than 6,200 fines have been issued, the Bangkok Post reports—and since the authorities have shown they're not messing around, national beer sales have fallen by 25%.

This is bad news for companies like Heineken NV and Anheuser-Busch InBev, because beer consumption in Vietnam has almost quadrupled in the last 15 years—the nation represents a huge and growing market. The Vietnam Beer Alcohol Beverage Association says it supports responsible drinking but insists the new fines are too steep, calling the regulations "controversial." It's true that Vietnam has a pervasive drinking culture, and up until now the laws on the books regarding alcohol have been thinly enforced; many citizens feel that the change is abrupt and harsh.

However, these penalties are the result of protests following several high-profile drunk driving fatalities throughout the country last year. Vu Tu Thanh of the US-Asean Business Council told the Bangkok Post that if the new laws continue to be enforced, "it will improve Vietnam's image, not only in the eyes of foreigners but in the eyes of its citizens."