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Young People Don’t Drink as Much as They Used To. Japan’s Tax Agency Is Worried.

Japanese officials are encouraging young people to drink up in a campaign called “Sake Viva!”
japan, alcohol, drink, tax
Young adults enjoy a cold one to celebrate entering adulthood. Photo: Philip FONG / AFP

Declining alcohol consumption among Japan’s youth has spurred a government campaign to sell more booze, in efforts that have been criticized as potentially harmful to their health.

The country’s tax agency, which regulates the liquor industry, is holding a contest to solicit ideas on how to market alcohol to young people as alcohol use fell to its lowest since records began in 1989.

In 2020, taxes on alcohol accounted for 1.7 percent of Japan’s tax revenue, compared to 3.5 percent a decade ago

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Pandemic restrictions on dining out and the country’s aging population have contributed to a decline in alcohol sales. To reverse the trend, the national tax agency is calling on anyone between 20 and 39 to come up with proposals to boost the industry, in a campaign called “Sake Viva!”

Ryo Tsukamoto, a spokesperson from the Liquor Tax Division at the national tax agency, denied that the contest was a push to increase tax revenue. He said it was meant to stimulate the industry.

“Drinking the right amount, at the right frequency, can help relieve stress and have a positive effect on people,” Tsukamoto told VICE World News.

But Hidetomi Tanaka, a Japanese economist and columnist, said the contest was problematic.

It is “embarrassing that Japan is going against the global trend of encouraging young people to adopt healthier lifestyles,” he told VICE World News. 

“It seems like the tax revenue agency is seeking to increase their profits at the expense of young people’s health,” he said. 

In 1995, the average Japanese adult consumed about 100 liters of alcoholic beverages. That amount has since been dropping and fell to 75 liters in 2020

According to the World Health Organization, which calculates alcohol consumption in liters of pure alcohol, the average Japanese drank 8 liters in 2016, compared to neighboring South Korea’s 10.2 liters, 9.8 liters in the United States, and 15.2 liters in Moldova—the biggest drinking countries globally.

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Behind the decline in alcohol consumption is Japan’s shrinking population, said Naoko Kuga, a senior researcher who’s studied consumer behavior in alcohol at the ​​Nissay Basic Research Institute. 

“The demographic that consumes the most alcohol is men in their 40s and 50s, so with Japan’s aging and declining population, that group is getting smaller in numbers,” she told VICE World News. 

But the decrease also came from a growing awareness of alcohol’s health risks, she said.

A similar trend is seen in most developed countries. In Canada and Australia, alcohol consumption dropped by over 10 percent in 2016 compared to data from 2010. The UK also reported a decline of over 11 percent over the same period.

The average global consumption has been rising, however, driven mainly by low- and middle-income countries such as Vietnam, India, and China, according to a study published in the Lancet in 2019.

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