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Japan: Basic Law on Measures Against Health Problems Caused by Alcohol Intake

(Feb. 5, 2014) A law that establishes measures on alcohol-related problems, including health issues and alcoholism, was enacted in December 2013. (Basic Law on Measures Against Health Problems Caused by Alcohol Intake (hereinafter Alcohol Problem Basic Law), Act No. 109 of 2013.)

It was estimated in 2003 that there were 8.6 million heavy drinkers in Japan. A heavy drinker is defined as a person who drinks more than 60 grams of net alcohol per occasion of drinking (e.g., four-fifths of a bottle of wine with 12% alcohol or four 12 oz. cans of beer with 5% alcohol). At the same time, it is estimated 4.4 million people were alcoholics, and among them, 800,000 were thought to need treatment. (Aruko¯ru izonsho: Kanja su¯ [Alcoholics: Number of Patients], Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) website, citing Yoneatsu Ozaki et al., Waga kuni no seijin inshu ko¯do¯ oyobi aruko¯rusho¯ ni kansuru zenkoku cho¯sa [Nation-Wide Survey on Drinking Behavior and Alcoholics], ARUKO¯RU KENKYU¯ TO YAKUBUTSU IZON [JAPANESE JOURNAL OF ALCOHOL STUDIES & DRUG DEPENDENCE] 40, 455-470 (2005).) Japan’s population was 127.6 million as of 2003. (Estimated Population as of October 1, 2003 [in Japanese], MHLW.)

The new law obligates the national and local governments to establish measures to reduce problems caused by people who have consumed alcohol. (Alcohol Problem Basic Law, arts. 4, 5, 11, 12, & 14.) The government is to establish a committee on health problems caused by alcohol intake; the committee members will be from the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education and Science, MHLW, and the National Police Agency. (Id. art. 25.) The government will also establish a council within the Cabinet Office whose members would be appointed by the Prime Minister from among experts, persons who have or have had alcohol problems, and family members of persons who have or have had alcohol problems. (Id. arts. 26 & 27.)

The Law sets up an Alcohol Problems Awareness Week to be held every November. (Id. art. 10.) The government will adopt measures to educate the population about alcoholism, will promote early detection of alcoholic problems in health check-ups, and will support programs with rehabilitation facilities. (Id. arts. 15-18.)

The Law also states that the government must implement measures to provide advice, instruction, and support for those who have committed the offenses of driving under the influence, domestic violence, and child abuse as a result of consumption of alcohol. (Id. art. 19.) The government will also assist with counseling for families, job hunting for people whose alcohol problems have improved, and support for private organizations that work on alcohol-related problems. (Id. arts. 20 – 22.)