The country's state-run tobacco company said yesterday that to avoid controversy, it has decided to remove the number "520" from its newly launched cigarette.
Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp (TTLC, 台灣菸酒公司) officials said that its domestic launch of the 520-series menthol cigarette, featuring pink packaging, a heart-shaped filter and a rose flavor, was strictly a "business" decision.
They denied charges by a powerful anti-tobacco group that the product was launched because the company wanted to capitalize on opportunities created by president-elect Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) inauguration on May 20.
The John Tung Foundation has urged Ma to intervene to suspend the marketing of the menthol cigarette, which allegedly targets women consumers. It also blasted the company for trying to capitalize commercially on Ma's? inauguration.
TTLC officials said that two 520-series cigarettes－one menthol and one light －have been sold since 1999 at duty free shops in airports and overseas with good response, with annual sales exceeding more than 90,000 cartons.
"To meet domestic demand, the company decided to launch the latest 520 product,??a section chief in the company's sales department said, adding that menthol cigarette sales peak in the summer and tobacco companies tend to launch new products in the spring.
"The launch of the rose-flavor menthol in late April had nothing to do with the inauguration of the new president or targeting any specific group of consumers," the official said.
Company representatives said that Western tobacco companies have marketed menthol cigarettes for years and that they are invariably given pink packaging.
Most of the consumers of the latest product over the past month were originally smokers of foreign menthols, the company said, reiterating that the cigarettes were not aimed at female consumers in Taiwan.