Tobacco firms hope changes keep smokers happy

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Japanese tobacco companies are adding to their lines and making changes to their products as they anticipate the impact of the largest tax hike on tobacco in Japan.

Tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products leapt more than 30 percent on October 1, with retailers reporting "panic buying" in the weeks leading up to that date. Figures released by the government show that cigarette sales were up a remarkable 88 percent in September.

The downside to that for the manufacturers is that sales will inevitably drop sharply in October and more people are likely to kick the habit entirely once their stockpiles have run out.

On Thursday, Japan Tobacco Inc. announced that it was revamping the look of some of its Mild Seven products - the best-selling brand in the country - which first went on sale in June 1977. From mid-November, the packaging for four menthol products in the line will have rounded corners.

"The flavors, aromas and other design features that consumers currently enjoy will not change, but with the new round corner box, JT will be more able to respond to the diversifying needs of our consumers by creating packages that are more stylish and refined than ever before," the company said.

"JT is committed to offering products and services whose quality meets and exceeds consumer expectations, not just the change in packaging of the four Mild Seven menthol products to round corner boxes but for all of our products," it added.

The revamp of Mild Seven comes just a week after the company announced the launch of a new super-slim addition to its Pianissimo range. The Super Slims Menthol One is firmly aimed at the female market and will go on sale in early November.

"The global market for super slims is on the rise," the company said in a statement. "Pianissimo is the No. 1 brand in the domestic 100 mm slim menthol market. By making Super Slims Menthol One part of the Pianissimo line, we hope not only to offer consumers more options but also to meet the expectations of the consumers for the future of the brand.

"The packaging reflects the 'super slim' cigarette size and it is very compact and portable in spite of containing 20 cigarettes," the company added. "Champagne Gold was used for the base color to make it a sophisticated but stylish package."

Japan Tobacco is by far the dominant player in the domestic market and smokers will be waiting to see how other companies, particularly foreign tobacco firms, respond.

Japan Tobacco's latest statistics indicate that 24.95 million Japanese smoke, out of an adult population of 104.4 million. A study by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare last November showed that the smoking rate among men has fallen to 36.8 percent - the lowest level since such surveys were started in 1986 - while the figure for women came to 9.1 percent, below the 10 percent threshold for the first time since 2001.

JR

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