Sales of birth control pills to start in Japan

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TOKYO--After more than 35 years of deliberations by Japanese health authorities, sales of low-dose birth control pills will start in Japan on Sept. 2.

Ten drug companies will sell the product and industry analysts say sales of the pill could reach $892 million. Most of the companies plan initial advertisements in medical journals and may boost their advertising if needed.

Leading Japanese drug company Yamanouchi and Germany's Schering said at a press conference this week they hope to have initial annual sales of about $27 million.

Yamanouchi, Schering and the eight other companies first applied for approval to sell the pill in 1990 and waited nine years as Japan's Health and Welfare Ministry discussed how sales would impact on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, women's health and sexual morals.

Japanese family planning advocates says initial sales will be minimal because of stringent requirements set by the ministry before a physician can prescribe the pill to patients. They also say many women remain leery of using the pill because of fears the low-dose pill could damage their health.

It took the ministry only six months to approve the sale of the antiimpotence drug Viagra in Japan.

Japan is the world per capita leader in condom usage, with about 8 out of 10 people who use birth control opting for condoms. Yearly sales of condoms are put at about 600 million units a year. While Japan tops per capita use, the U.S. is the largest market in terms of volume.

Copyright August 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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