Japan's new campaign encourages young people to drink more alcohol - but the reaction has been mixed

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  • Japan wants people to drink more alcohol to boost its alcohol tax revenue, but it's unsure how to convince them.
  • The solution? Launch a contest to find new ways to encourage young adults to increase their consumption.
  • However, many people are unhappy. A South African expert shares his thoughts.

Drink more alcohol. That's the messaging behind Japan's latest Sake Viva! campaign, which hopes to increase alcohol tax revenue by making drinking more attractive to young adults.

Japan's National Tax Agency (NTA) introduced the competition this year after a decline in sales noticeably impacted the country's finances.

Named after Japan's famous rice wine, Sake Viva! invites all people aged 20 to 39 to submit ideas and slogans for "new products and designs" that will encourage drinking.

READ MORE | News of tragic death involving excessive drinking again shines light on SA's alcohol problem

The group behind the contest for the NTA said new habits, which were partly formed during the Covid-19 pandemic, and an ageing population have led to a decline in alcohol sales. 

"The domestic alcoholic beverage market is shrinking due to demographic changes such as the declining birth rate and ageing population, and lifestyle changes due to the impact of Covid-19," it added on its website.

The average annual alcohol consumption in Japan decreased from 100 litres per person in 1995 to 75 litres in 2020, the agency said.

Mixed reactions

Unsurprisingly, the competition, which runs until 9 September, has been met with criticism.

Some people online, as well as health professionals, said the campaign was a bad idea that encouraged an unhealthy habit, and was insensitive towards those dealing with alcoholism.

"What on earth was the National Tax Agency thinking? Have they not heard of the negative impact of alcohol?" tweeted one user.

Another believed "Japan [was] putting profit before people".

Others were on board, tweeting a photo with alcohol and saying they were "doing [their] part". 

What a South African expert says

"Given that 53% of male drinkers over 15 years [57% of male drinkers between 15 and 19 years] in Japan, according to the WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol & Health [2018], engage in heavy episodic drinking at least monthly; this is, in my opinion, irresponsible marketing," Professor Charles Parry told News24.

Parry, director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit at the SA Medical Research Council, said the corresponding percentages in Japan for females were 20 and 31%, respectively.

He added:
For South Africa, the figures are more startling: 71% of male drinkers over 15 engage in heavy episodic drinking at least monthly [74% of male drinkers aged 15 to 19 years], with the corresponding percentages for females being 34% and 38%, respectively.

Parry said Sake Viva! was a bit more transparent than what we saw in South Africa, but its liquor industry also promoted itself as a major contributor to the economy, while research showed the economic costs of alcohol borne by the government - and society at large - were substantially higher than the excise tax derived from it. 

READ MORE | What experts say you should know about alcohol

However, he added: "I am not saying we should close down the alcohol industry, but the government should be much more determined to bring down the economic and social costs borne from the harmful use of alcohol."

Being mindful

Japan's Health Ministry hoped the campaign would also remind people only to consume the "appropriate amount of alcohol".

READ MORE | Trying to cut back on alcohol? Here’s what works

Interestingly, it previously warned of the dangers of excessive drinking.

A post on its website, published last year, noted excessive alcohol consumption was a "major social problem", CNN reported.

It also urged those with unhealthy drinking habits to "reconsider" their relationship with alcohol.

The Financial Times added the ministry said it had not cooperated with the tax agency on its contest, but it was in close contact with it over alcohol and health issues.

Economist Hidetomi Tanaka called Sake Viva! an "irresponsible and unorthodox drinking campaign", as per the New York Times.

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