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While much attention is given, deservedly, to the expansionist tactics in the developing world of the big three tobacco transnationals—Philip, BAT, and Japan Tobacco—several smaller tobacco companies are busily emulating them. In Niger, as in other French speaking west African countries, the dominant tobacco company since colonial times has been Seita, the former French tobacco monopoly now merged into Altadis along with its Spanish counterpart Tabacalera.
Last year's Miss Niger beauty contest demonstrates how the new, smaller tobacco companies can give the big boys a run for their money when it comes to saturation brand coverage in the youth market. The contest was sponsored by Fine cigarettes, manufactured by Seita/Altadis and distributed by Sitab Niger. The wife of Niger's President attended, together with the tourism minister and, significantly for this highly fashion and music conscious nation, a clutch of famous clothes designers and musicians. The event attracted droves of young people and gained extensive television and newspaper coverage. Attractive young women distributed Fine cigarettes, T shirts, caps and bags.
Fine also sponsors a biennial international festival of African fashion. Fine's sister brand Excellence sponsors the National Youth Festival, a cultural and sports event attended by more than 3000 young people, and traditional wresting, the most popular sport in Niger, which is covered live on television. Even the courtyard of Niger's parliament carries a Sitab cigarette brand advertisement.
It is not hard to envisage the odds stacked against any politician or government official who might try to ban tobacco promotion in Niger: just imagine finding yourself accidentally dropped into the ring at the Fine national wrestling contest.