National

Smoking and drinking ban to remain despite lowering of age of adulthood

Kyodo

Adults under age 20 still won’t be able to buy cigarettes or alcohol despite proposed legal changes to lower the age of adulthood to 18, National Police Agency officials said Wednesday.

Even with an amended Civil Code, the agency is considering retaining the drinking and tobacco ban stipulated under existing legislation, it said.

A bill to lower the nation’s legal age of adulthood is likely to be submitted to the Diet’s extraordinary session this fall.

The planned amendment would redefine adulthood for the first time since the code was drawn up in the late 19th century. For a majority of countries in Europe and the U.S., 18-year-old are legally considered adults.

But lawmakers are reluctant to change the legal drinking- and smoking age due to potential health risks.

Two laws under the agency’s jurisdiction prohibit underage drinking and smoking. The provisions specifying that those under 20 are banned from the engaging in these activities will likely stand should the code be amended. However, the names of the two laws are likely to be changed, as they reference “minors,” which may be misinterpreted following the Civil Code revision.

In September 2015, a Liberal Democratic Party’s special panel compiled a set of proposals urging the government to lower the legal adult age to 18 from 20.

While the panel initially pushed for allowing those under 20 to drink or smoke, it eventually put off a decision until the code is revised due to divided views. Proponents say the new adults must be accountable for themselves.

The Japan Medical Association has raised health and addiction concerns.

The association said in a statement, also in September that year, that the younger people start drinking, the more likely they will become addicted to alcohol, and alcohol dependence could lead to drug addiction. The group also said smoking also increases the risk of illnesses.

Consumer groups are also worried that with the amendment of the code, consumer issues such as the signing of unreasonable contracts for purchases and loans could increase. The current law allows parents or guardians to unilaterally break unfair contracts entered into by those under 20.

Even after lowering the adult age, the government also plans to keep the gambling ban in place. Under current laws, minors are banned from betting on public-run forms of gambling such as horse and motorboat racing.

The pending amendment follows the June 2016 enactment of a revised election law that reduced the minimum voting age to 18. The change is based on a 2009 recommendation by the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council, an advisory body to the justice minister, saying that it is appropriate to lower the legal age of adulthood.

Amending the code would affect about 200 other laws, and changes to each will be individually debated, according to the ministry.

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