Many years ago, back in my smoking days, Mild Seven cigarettes were invariably the smokes I copped from friends when I ran out of my favorite brand. That's how popular this brand was--a hands-down bestseller since its market debut 35 years ago.
Japan Tobacco Inc. announced Aug. 8 that it is renaming Mild Seven to "Mevius." One reason for the name change seems to do with the European Union's tobacco brand regulations.
In 2003, the EU banned "mild" and "light" from cigarette brand names, claiming these words gave the false impression that such cigarettes were not bad for health. JT, which had advanced into the EU market shortly before the ban came into effect, was compelled to withdraw its signature Mild Seven line of products.
I filed stories from Europe on the fuss back then. JT defended it by arguing that Mild and Seven are inseparable as a brand name, but EU officials would not relent. They told JT that if they must use this brand name in Europe, they should use it to sell yogurt or something.
The EU is the "global showroom" for premium tobacco. JT has probably realized what a wasted opportunity it is to remain unable to sell its flagship brand in Europe. Hence, the decision to rename and repackage it, without changing the content, for marketing at home as well as abroad. JT is obviously determined to groom it into the world's No. 1 brand, and for that, it doesn't mind sacrificing the iconic name.
Health awareness and tobacco tax hikes have shrunk Japan's smokers to less than 20 percent of the population. Even among men, many of whom used to smoke like chimneys, two of three are now nonsmokers. The government is trying to bring down the smoking population to 12 percent within 10 years.
The shrinking domestic market must be JT's reason for seeking growth abroad, and the brand name change is a reasonable strategy. However, with the United States and Europe continuing to restrict smoking, there are only a limited number of countries left where JT can hope for high growth.
Thus, cigarette smoke keeps drifting toward developing countries while makers try every trick, even changing the brand name if necessary.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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