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Public to be surveyed on drinking, smoking age changes

Date Posted: 2012-05-12

Japan's National Police Agency is preparing to conduct a survey of the public about whether the legal age for drinking and smoking should be lowered from the current 20 years old.

With the government discussing whether to cut the statutory age of adulthood from 20 to 18, the agency "hopes to listen to the opinions of a broad range of people," a senior Japan National Police Agency official says. Informed sources say the agency is considering when and how to conduct the survey.

The agency claims the legal age for drinking and smoking was introduced in 1948 following an amendment to the Civil Code. People under 20 years of age were prohibited from drinking or smoking because they were deemed lacking the adequate ability to judge right from wrong and the habits have a significant impact on their health. If the legally recognized adult age is lowered from 20 to 18, it would be difficult to convince the public of the reasons why people aged 18 and 19 are not permitted to drink or smoke even though they are adults by law, a senior agency official says.

Officials of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and other experts are still concerned that drinking and smoking have significant negative effects on the health of minors, but the police agency official said such effects vary between individuals and medical views should not be the sole factor in deciding whether to lower the legal age for drinking and smoking. The official adds "What the people think about the issue is the most important factor when we draw a conclusion.

In the United States and South Korea, the minimum drinking age is 21 years old. By contrast, Britain, France and Australia set the age lower than 20 years old. Within the National Police Agency, sources say, some are calling for separate age limits for drinking and smoking. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there are an estimated 2.4 million people aged 18 and 19 in Japan.

Since 2007, a panel mainly consisting of top bureaucrats from government ministries and agencies has been looking at the advisability of lowering the statutory age of adulthood. They started the discussion following the enactment in the same year of the national referendum legislation, which lays down procedures for revising the nation's constitution. Under the legislation, the minimum voting age for national referendums is 18, compared with the current minimum voting age of 20 for elections to public offices. The legislation came into force in 2010.

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