Tourists are seen on a beach of Maiton Island in Phuket, Thailand March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha(reuters_tickers)
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand banned smoking and littering at 24 beachside locations that are popular with tourists over environmental concerns on Thursday, the ministry of natural resources and environment said.
The Southeast Asian country has been a tourist magnet for decades, from its backpacker heyday in the early 1990s to its current popularity with tourists from mainland China. It expects to welcome a record 37.55 million tourists in 2018.
Environmental rights groups have urged successive governments to protect Thailand's palm-fringed beaches, which are frequently voted among the world's most beautiful, from unregulated development and littering, among other things.
A law that came into force on Thursday is aimed at tackling this problem, said Bannaruk Sermthong, a director at the Office of Marine and Coastal Resources Management.
"Starting today, smoking and cigarette-butt littering are prohibited on beach areas," Bannaruk told Reuters.
"Anyone who wants to smoke must do so in designated smoking areas, not on the beaches."
The law protects 24 beaches in 15 provinces located along the Andaman coast and the Gulf of Thailand.
Anyone who violates the law will be taken to a criminal court and could face up to one year in jail, or a fine of up to 100,000 baht ($3,190), or both.
Thailand has 357 beaches nationwide.
($1 = 31.34 baht)
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Paul Tait)