• Kyodo, Staff Report

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A Liberal Democratic Party panel on Wednesday delayed formally adopting proposed changes to the age at which youngsters can smoke and drink a day after unveiling the radical plan.

The panel unveiled legal amendments Tuesday that would reduce the legal age for drinking and smoking from 20 to 18.

It additionally recommended a proportional reduction in the legal definition of a minor, with the smoking and drinking change expected to be submitted to the government by the end of this month after securing party approval.

However, the proposals faced an almost immediate setback after strong opposition from LDP members who attended a panel meeting to formally adopt the recommendations on Wednesday.

The panel executives were forced to postpone a decision and discuss the matter again next week to revise the proposals, participants said.

During the meeting, many expressed concerns over “health hazards,” “confusion at educational institutions” and “lack of consensus among the general public,” according to participants.

Given the development, it is unclear whether the proposals will be realized.

Lawmakers recently enacted legislation to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, a change that will come into effect by next summer so that teens can participate in the Upper House election scheduled later that year.

The panel’s proposals included revising a number of provisions that would enable 18- and 19-year-olds to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and betting slips. People under the age of 20 are currently banned from doing that.

An opinion poll conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji News Network in June found that 72.4 percent of people opposed lowering the drinking and smoking age to 18, while only 25.3 percent favored the idea. The poll also showed that 79.5 percent of female respondents opposed the idea. The figure rose to over 80 percent among women in their 40s and 50s.

By contrast, 64.8 percent of men objected to lowering the age limit, while 32.9 percent of men favored it.

The poll also showed that 71.9 percent of young adults in their 20s opposed the change.

Despite concerns that tweaking the limit could have health consequences or encourage delinquency, the panel concluded that if 18-year-olds are considered adults it is inappropriate to impose restrictions on them.

It said, however, that the minimum legal age for possessing hunting rifles and obtaining a driver’s license for vehicles weighing 5 tons or more should remain at 20.

Meanwhile, because 18- and 19-year-olds will be allowed to sign contracts without the consent of their parents or guardians once the statutory age of adulthood is reduced from 20 to 18, the panel said there is a need to strengthen consumer education for young adults to help them guard against becoming victims of fraud.

The panel also proposed the minimum age for lay judges be reduced from 20 to 18.

The Juvenile Law treats people under the age of 20 as minors, serving them lighter punishments when convicted as offenders. The panel suggested that the Justice Ministry consider lowering the age.

At the same time, it asked the ministry to consider creating a system to protect and care for young offenders age 18 or older who are identified as mentally immature.

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