Philip Morris draws fire with Chinese promotion

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BEIJING -- Philip Morris Inc. has come under fire in a front-page story in the Beijing Youth Daily, a popular Chinese-language newspaper, that claimed the U.S. company's cigarette sales promotion in the Chinese capital has attracted people under 18 years of age.

Philip Morris Asia is currently running a massive sales promotion in Beijing at 10 large department stores, set to run until Jan. 15, in which smokers can exchange empty flip-top or soft packs of Marlboro cigarettes for Marlboro-branded sportswear, such as watches, bags, caps and jackets. A watch requires five empty packets; a jacket, from 50 to 60.

The cigarette marketer is also mailing details of the campaign to smokers in the city. However, the newspaper story claimed, print material has also been sent to middle-school students under age 18. According to the offer, only smokers over 18 can take part in the promotion. The paper shows a photo of middle-school student Guan Luning displaying print materials he received.

Tobacco advertising is strictly forbidden in China. As a result, foreign-brand cigarette marketers use other means of promoting products and expanding sales. Most commonly, marketers sponsor sports matches - including the country's national football and basketball contests.

Earlier this year, B.A.T's 555 launched a campaign in Hangzhou, capital city of Southeast China's Zhejing Province, to encourage smokers to exchange their Chinese cigarette brands for packs of 555, arousing criticism from both the public and Chinese cigarette makers.

Marlboro's direct mail has been met with concern from smokers as well as the general public, particularly critical of the way the U.S. marketer is promoting the sale of cigarettes in China while it is under attack at home.

Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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