Pfizer bungles tax-fueled Champix surge in Japan

A new cigarette tax and a stop-smoking drug were a match made in Japan, and it might have been heaven if Pfizer ($PFE) hadn't fumbled. The drugmaker, which sells its Chantix remedy as Champix in Japan, knew the higher tax was coming, advertised its drug heavily, and then failed to make enough to satisfy demand.

As the New York Times reports, tens of thousands of smokers sought Champix scrips before the tax went into effect October 1, and even more after that. Scrips doubled to 170,000 in September from 70,000 in July. By mid-October, the company was so overwhelmed, it had to stop selling Champix to new patients. It could only meet demand for existing patients as it scrambled to increase production.

The drug still is tough to get in Japan. Patients and doctors there aren't happy. "After all that advertising, it turns out they don't have enough," Hiroya Kumamaru, whose clinic is turning away would-be quitters, told the Times. "[O]ur reading of the situation was off," Pfizer spokesman Kinji Iwase said.

It's an unfortunate turn of events for Pfizer, which could have helped shore up its stop-smoking franchise with big Japanese sales. Chantix revenues have been falling in the U.S.--by 16.8 percent to $252 million during the first nine months of 2010--as worries about its psychiatric side effects have cut into demand.

- read the NYT piece