An estimated 6.45 million people in Japan suffer from alcohol-related problems. Among them are 800,000 people who suffer from alcohol dependency severe enough to require medical treatment, yet only 40,000 of them receive such treatment each year, according to findings of a research team of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. Excessive drinking costs the nation ¥4.15 trillion and 35,000 lives annually.

A basic law to prevent health damage from alcohol, enacted in the extraordinary Diet last fall with little public attention, is the first legal step taken by Japan in response to the World Health Organization's Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol adopted in 2010. Civic groups, organizations and experts concerned with the issue approached lawmakers, who then submitted the legislation as a supra-partisan bill. The basic law was approved with unanimous support in both chambers of the Diet.

While concrete actions must await additional discussion, the law is significant in declaring that national and local governments, medical professionals and other parties involved are responsible for planning and implementing actions to deal with various health and social problems caused by harmful drinking.