Tobacco industry officials are hoping Zhengzhou Cigarette Factory can give a helping hand to a struggling provincial neighbour. The Provincial Tobacco Monopoly Administration wants the Zhengzhou firm to buy out Kaifeng Cigarette Factory, which is bleeding red ink. But although Zhengzhou is Henan's most profitable cigarette producer, it may be too heavy a burden. The Zhengzhou factory is fighting to maintaining its own profitability, given the state's tight control on new joint ventures and expansion. 'The provincial administration hopes that we can take on some less profitable or loss-making enterprises. 'But we're afraid that we can't afford it and eventually we will be dragged down by others,' said the public relations director of Zhengzhou Cigarette Factory, Zhang Jianmin . Kaifeng employed more than 2,000 workers and had more than 1,000 retired workers to support, he said. Mr Zhang said his factory was one of the lucky few cigarette firms because its technology upgrade programme had been approved by the State Economic Trade Commission. The company aims to eliminate all low-end products by 1998 to ensure its survival. Last year, the company achieved sales of 1.3 billion yuan (about HK$1.2 billion) and produced 467,000 boxes of its products. It sells the Sanhua, Emperor, Butterfly and Huangjinye brands of cigarettes. Last month, Beijing announced a temporary ban on new joint ventures for the production of cigarettes and filters. The decision came as the market was reaching saturation point with a predicted 36.5 million boxes of cigarettes being produced by 2000, a rise of 5.1 per cent on 1995.