Pfizer Undervalued the Interest for its Drug among Japanese Smokers

February 2nd, 2011 13:10

After that, the Japanese government increased the tax on tobacco products on October 1; it could have launched a public health revolution among heavy smokers. The given tax increase should also have been a good time for Pfizer, which is the largest pharmaceutical company producing drugs to help smokers kick the dangerous habit. But instead it became a wasted opportunity. Knowing about the change, Pfizer didn’t produce enough of the drug, knowing as Chantix that is sold as Champix in Japan. When thousands of smokers who wanted to quit went to their physicians for prescriptions, Pfizer was overwhelmed. Two weeks after the tax increase took effect; the company was obliged to postpone the sales of the drug to new patients until it might increase production.

Japanese Smokers

“After all advertisements, it happens that they do not have enough drugs. My clinic has drug only for 80 patients who started their treatment before the supply reduction. I think that they should have expected something like this,” stated Hiroya Kumamaru, director of the KI Akihabara Clinic in Tokyo, who has to turn away his patients. “Our company undervalued the interest for drug among Japanese smokers. A great number of people decided to stop smoking, and we didn’t expect it. We suspected more demand but not to much,” Pfizer spokesman in Tokyo, Kinji Iwase declared.

Japan is a well-known smokers’ fortress. Cheap tobacco products sold by a government-controlled tobacco manufacturer, lenient antismoking laws- smokers have particularly absolute freedom to light up at restaurants, bars and even at schools and government offices- are encouraging this dangerous habit. World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that approximately 130,000 people die annually from smoking related diseases in Japan. But currently growing health awareness about smoking hazards, tougher regulations on tobacco advertising and consequently strict smoking ban have lead to a gradual decrease in smoking. The smoking rate for men constituted 36.6% in 2010, on 2.3% lower than a year earlier.

The tax increase, urged by the health concerns as well as a need to increase profit for Japan’s government, was supposed to impel a sustained flight from cigarettes(Sobranie, Marlboro, Pall Mall). On October 1, the price of a pack of 20 Pall Mall cigarettes increased from 300 yen ($3.60), to over 400 yen, including 70 yen in taxes.

Shortly before the increase, smokers hastened to arm with tobacco products; tobacco sales shoot up by 88% in September from a year earlier, but dropped by 70% in October, according to the Tobacco Institute of Japan. Realized surveys demonstrate that Japan smokers want to quit, 13.9% of respondents said they had quit, 15.5% said they planned to stop.

While sales of nicotine patches, gums and other cigarette alternatives have increased, Chantix seems to be the most popular among smokers who want to quit. Till August Pfizer was selling the drug to approximately 70,000 patients per month in Japan. But it was not ready for the jump in demand due to the tax increase. In September, the prescriptions constituted about 170,000, and they increased even more in October. On October 12, Pfizer declared that it was ceasing the shipments of the drug, and advised clinics to stop admitting new patients

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