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Cigarette sales fell for the third consecutive year in fiscal 2001, which ended March 31, according to a manufacturers’ association.

Some 319.3 billion cigarettes were sold in that period, a drop of 5.2 billion, the Tobacco Institute of Japan said. Sales in value terms came to 4.10 trillion yen, down 1.5 percent.

Japan Tobacco Inc., the nation’s dominant cigarette company, said the decline was due to price hikes in 1997 and 1998 as well as the depressed state of the wider economy. The company said it anticipates sales to remain slow as the population growth is slowing down.

Sales of imported cigarettes rose after registering a decline in fiscal 2000, totaling 82.1 billion, up some 700 million.

They accounted for 25.7 percent of the entire market.

Mild Seven Super Lights were the top-selling brand in fiscal 2001, keeping the top slot for the fourth year in a row.

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