Displaying alcohol content by grams can help drinkers avoid overdoing it

Too much alcohol is bad for your health. The alcoholic beverage industry must make efforts to help people avoid drinking to excess by providing easy-to-understand labeling.

Major alcoholic beverage companies plan to use grams to indicate alcohol content for such beverages as canned beer and canned chuhai (highballs made with shochu spirits).

Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry guidelines show that a daily intake of 40 grams for men and 20 grams for women raises the risk of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Currently, it is required by law to show alcohol content by percentage on alcoholic products, but showing the content by weight is not required. Alcohol content by weight can be calculated by multiplying the volume of the drink in milliliters by its percentage of alcohol, and then multiplying the result by alcohol’s specific gravity of 0.8, but this calculation is bothersome.

Knowing the amount of one’s alcohol intake is desirable for staying healthy. It is relatively easy to understand whether one’s alcohol intake amount exceeds the amount shown in the guidelines if the alcohol content is displayed in grams. It is important for each company to inform consumers about the alcohol content by weight.

On March 30, Asahi Breweries will begin phasing in the display of alcohol content by weight on its website.

Other companies intend to follow Asahi’s move, but it is likely they will provide the information only on their websites for the time being. Kirin said it plans to display alcohol content by weight directly on the labels of its cans, but also said it will start doing so by 2024.

The industry probably has a sense of caution that displaying alcohol content by weight directly on containers could lead to a decline in sales of alcoholic beverages.

Shouldn’t each company start showing alcohol content by weight on cans at an early date, in keeping with the ministry guidelines?

Recently, an increasing number of people have been drinking at home due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. For some, their alcohol intake has become elevated amid the stresses of working at home and self-restraint from going out.

Each company is putting energy into sales of “strong” drinks — often with that word right in the product names — including chuhai drinks with high alcohol percentages of 7% to 9%.

Even for people with a low tolerance for alcohol, there is a risk of drinking too much in the case of some products that contain fruit juice or other flavorings that make them easier to drink. People involved in medical services have voiced concern that such drinks will lead to an increase in the number of people with alcoholism.

The government this month adopted a plan for measures to address alcohol-related health issues at a Cabinet meeting, and it is urging the alcoholic beverage industry to label alcoholic content by weight on containers.

In recent years, excessive intake of alcohol has come under stern scrutiny with increased health-consciousness. The World Health Organization has been carrying out awareness campaigns such as ones to highlight the harmful effects of excessive drinking.

Investors and others now tend to want companies not only to pursue profits but also to make social contributions. Unless they pay attention to the health of consumers, companies will lose their corporate value.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 30, 2021.