The alcohol promotion project of the Japanese tax agency, described in the article by Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki, is misguided (“Japan’s latest advice on alcohol to its younger generation: please drink more”, Report, August 18).
Japan’s current tax rates for alcohol products are an obstacle to fair competition. The tax on beer is set high relative to its alcohol content. On the other hand, tax on wine, which is supposed to be a luxury product, is roughly a sixth of that on beer and whisky is a quarter.
This has a historical explanation. In the past, whisky and brandy were taxed at a higher rate. But a trade dispute with the west in the 1980s led to a complaint filed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade resulting in all spirits being taxed at the same rate, regardless of alcohol content, thus ending the differential in tax rates for whisky and Japan’s popular distilled beverage shochu. But it still left brewers facing higher taxes than other drinks makers.
The efforts of brewers to circumvent this resulted in the creation of a strange product, now known as happoshu, with a reduced malt content. However, this will be standardised to the same tax rate as real beer by 2026.
Japanese people cannot afford real beer because it is too expensive, so they have to put up with beer-like drinks. Reducing the tax on low-alcohol beer would be a more positive step from both a sales promotion and health perspective. A fair taxation system should be prioritised rather than a rash campaign.