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Illegal Cigarettes, Guns, BAT

Death and Taxes

by Andy Davis / 07.04.2011

I thought there was a ban on cigarette advertising? But apparently, now it’s OK just so long as SARS and the SA government also have something to lose. I refer to the emotive ad above. A massive campaign launched by British American Tobacco (BAT), in December 2010, to highlight the imminent peril of buying illegal cigarettes, which, if you believe the ads, could be worse for your health than smoking.

Reviewing this campaign is like unpicking a tangled web that highlights a toxic nexus of self interest, double standards and making sure that the big business tobacco company spin on illegal cigarettes wins out and becomes the dominant narrative. You know, the usual grist of late capitalism.

Let’s start with that goon with the gun. To the untrained eye, he looks like a bad ass 26, a scary Cape Flats gangster, a stone cold killer, but really a bit of Google research shows that it’s just a photo-shopped Getty stock image. Still until I knew that, I was scared, that dude looks batshit crazy. It prompted me to think, maybe illegal cigarettes are dangerous? Fuck I’d hate to confront that guy in my living room late at night. So the ad plays on a basic fear response. Low hanging fruit in crime-rocked South Africa. To get the maximum fear bang-for-their buck this criminal couldn’t be a funny looking, PC, white oke in a balaclava, like those Trellidor ads. Nope, this needs to resonate! It needs to dip into the well of established suburban fears. A young black man with a gun… Roll out the old faithful racial trope. An uncontrollable rapist on a killing spree… surprise surprise, he’s black. This is lowest common denominator propaganda shit right here. And it’s damn obvious. Let’s draw strong lines in the public’s mind between illegal cigarettes, crime, drugs and international terrorism. Get your fear on.

Let’s defer to Occam’s razor. Invariably, the only people who benefit from this campaign are the established cigarette companies, SARS and the SA government who love our tax moolah so much. It’s obvious that behind the slip of an “awareness campaign” the cigarette company’s big hairy balls are showing. They’re doing a suggestive PR dance with ostrich feathers, the truth and a gilt-edged opportunity to bring the subject of cigarettes back into the mainstream media space. Let’s breakdown the boardroom logic:

“OK, so we make a product that if consumed, regularly, over time, as prescribed, will kill our consumers. Because of this the government slaps a huge amount of tax on the sale of our product to try and deter you, the smoker, and make a lot of money at the same time. Lucky for us, the high prices don’t really deter smokers, because nicotine addiction is very strong. But now there’s a recession and right next door we have a major tobacco producing nation, with serious political and economic problems and a steady flow of economic refugees looking for a better life in South Africa. And all of a sudden there’s a major influx of illegal cigarettes, eating into our profits!”
“Hang on sir, I have an idea!”
“What is it Morris?”
“Selling illegal cigarettes is a crime, right?”
“And people who commit crimes are criminals, right?”
“And criminals are highly likely to be involved in other crimes! So what we need to do is unleash the specter of violent crime, drugs and international terrorism.”
“But are they related?”
“Of course they’re related! They’re illegal… and besides, this is the underworld, no one has absolute stats or definitive market research.”
“You’re right Morris, Illegal cigarettes are the number one enemy of freedom! They fund everything from car hijacking to Al Qaeda.”

Illegal Cigarettes, Drugs, BAT

And in one fell swoop they get to act against the loss of profits, do some important PR spin on just how bad and dangerous those pesky illegal cigarettes are, and get some of that good ol’ banned advertising juice they love so much but aren’t allowed to touch. And so instead of a new wing for emphysema research at Baragwanath, we get this guy with the gun on billboards, in print, on radio and TV – it’s a blitz. It’s the war on illegal cigarettes. And no matter what anyone argues, these ads also work to sell cigarettes.

Let me explain, one way or the the other – people on the street, just going about their business, and not necessarily thinking about having a choof, are suddenly invited, by a scary looking man with a gun, to think about cigarettes. This is better than skiing in Colorado with Peter Stuyvesant… this shit gets your attention. Fear! Kak yourself. Don’t fund crime! Smoke the real thing. Much better. Exhale. Aaaah. And if you’ve ever been hooked on that sweet sweet nicotine that final thought is enough to get the ol’ pleasure receptors in your brain firing. Soon you’ll be mindsurfing towards an image of yourself pulling on a nice fresh shmaf – and kazaam! Advertising has been achieved. Awareness of a whole range of products has been created, and thanks to the power of nicotine, a need has been exposed that needs to be sated. Leading, happily, to the sale of cigarettes. Ironically, many of them illegal. Cue trigger of scary black man with the gun. Well done BAT, you may have just become a case study for Trojan Horse advertising campaigns. What a scoop. A coup. Boardroom high fives all round.

Now I’m not arguing that illegal cigarettes are not problematic and that there aren’t criminal syndicates involved in a range of crimes who turn a tidy profit supplying these high quality Zimbabwean tobacco products to a willing market. What I am arguing is that it’s not such a major issue that it deserves a massive R8.5 million Rand advertising campaign, that flaunts a ban on cigarette advertising, to bring it to our attention. I’d rather BAT sink that cash into research to combat and treat lung cancer, or how about a health insurance fund tied into cigarette sales?

Obviously, to BAT the continued supply of cheap Zimbabwean cigarettes is eating into their profits, and it’s against the law! Cue rising indignation. At SARS, the same thing is chowing up the tax money bonafide cigarette sales generate. And that, we have to identify, is the primary impetus for the campaign. But it’s hard to expect the population to feel sorry for tobacco companies or SARS. Death and Taxes. It’s the same Modus Operandi as the build up to the war in Iraq: “sex” up the problem, shift the real focus and spin a web of fear to protect the profit.

These ads, paint the story they want you to see. Scary criminals that erode the fabric of our society. Gone is the nuance, the human story of a failed state next door, whose aged, corrupt and autocratic leader has been supported by a protracted 10 year policy of obfuscation and inaction from our government – the supposedly democratic regional superpower. A failed neighbour state that just happens to be a major producer of high quality tobacco products. And what about the inconvenient story of millions of economic refugees who cross the border, frequently with bags stuffed full of cartons of tasty, high quality cheap Zimbo cigs… Poor, oppressed Zimbabweans looking for a better life in South Africa, escaping tyranny, who just happen to see a gap in the market. Entrepreneurial heroes to the families they feed. It’s not the story of hard working immigrant Somali spaza shop owners who simply supply the demand for a cheaper alternative. It’s not about sin tax, porous borders, a dysfunctional police force, the recession or being addicted to nicotine. Nope, it’s the story of cold blooded gangsters who kill and maim and rape and kill again because you smoke illegal cigarettes.

And yes, in case you hadn’t worked it out yet, it’s all your fault.

42   4
  1. Sarah Dee says:

    I heard a radio interview with some woman quite senior in the BAT marketing dept, talking about this campaign when it was still upcoming. You could hear the knowing irony in her voice as she spoke. She couldn’t hide the fact even she knows that its a crock of shit, that they really had to dig fucking hard to find some reason to motivate why you should smoke their cigarettes, which are going to kill just as fast as those cheap cigarettes over there. They’ve had to manufacture some ethereal argument that turns on morality, which is so embarassingly obviously about trespassing against the commandments of capital than of Moses.

    But if there are two human characteristics that can’t be overcome by appeal to morality, its addictive pleasures and money.

    But it was clear in this interview that they know, as much as we know, that there’s bugger all else anyone can think of to do about it.

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  2. YsterHart says:

    Good article.

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  3. Oscar Pambuka says:

    BAT should just manufacture high quality cigarettes and sell at a good price and such campaigns would never cross their minds.

    What qualifies an illegal cigarette, what of illegal cooking oil, illegal fish etc, there’s nothing like that because consumers choose what they prefer. if all the cigarettes on the shelf taste bad then why not get it from my Zimbabwean Friend in Hillbrow.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    great article. i thought something was off about these adds when i first saw one of the highway towards Soweto.

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  5. Mr. Humphrey says:

    I saw the billboard ad the other day while driving down one of the highways and I must plead guilty to the sudden feeling of fear and patriotism. Then I remembered that the BAT’s cigarettes will kill far more people than the man who is supposedly going to buy a gun ever will.

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  6. Soberholic says:

    Bravo, Andy. Excellent. Now I’d like to see the campaign to stop people from being bombarded by illegal ‘cigarette adverts’. Because that’s what this is, right? A cigarette advert. And cigarette adverts are illegal, right? Or did they recently unban stupidity?

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  7. mike says:

    “The money you spend buying legal cigarettes WILL be used to kill people and fuckup lives”

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  8. ling-ling says:

    I wonder where the creative department got their coke from? This campaign really pisses me off. There should be an advert with loads of hot guys and girls wearing hip brands at a cool party doing coke with the WARNING. Your weekend party is helping to grow crime.


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  9. p says:

    The person who’s selling those illegal cigarettes might also be using the money to feed and educate his kids.

    …and the person whos selling the legal cigarettes has been selling kids dangerous drugs since forever.

    These adverts should be banned. They promote racial stereotypes. Never seen a white guy on them. I’d love to see one with a guy in a nice suit, at a fancy restaurant, saying the guy who sells you the legal cigarettes is getting rich poisoning you and your kids….stop smoking”

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  10. Mike says:

    Agreed. Got article. I’m glad that people see through this nonsense

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  11. Nissim says:

    How the heck are we supposed to pay off our much needed Defence acquisitions if people insist on stealing tax revenue from SARS?

    I gave up smoking 23 years ago, but I think I might just start again so I can do my bit to help combat crime, cut down on illegal guns, halt drug peddlers making inroads into civil (sic) society, reduce Zimbabwean economic insurgents …and pay off our Defence purchases of course.

    Tbh, I don’t really enjoy tobacco any more (prefer my reefers) but someone’s gotta get do something about this scourge.

    I am so glad that BAT brought to my attention this disgusting, disloyal, anti-social and treasonous behaviour.

    So, it’s off to the corner cafe I go, … to buy a pay or three of BAT’s finest… and smoke to my hearts content … until I choke like a Protea.

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  12. Nic says:

    Funny how I sent Mahala an article that I wrote about how mainstream tobacco corporations work together to keep the 3rd world tobacco industry as cheap as possible. And this happens all over Africa as well as other countries. Sometimes even slave labour is used in the tobacco farms, it happens a lot in Kazakhstan and Malawi.
    It makes sense why illegal cigarettes have become so popular – because it’s an obvious outcome if global corporations are making more than 1000% profit on legal cigarettes…

    And think about it.. The only thing you’re really paying for when you’re manufacturing cigarettes is the machinery. The farming, harvesting and sorting is all ridiculously cheap.

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  13. funding the assholes says:

    Sitting here smoking my marlbro menthols that have cost me R33 to buy,I almost want to go out and buy illegal boxes of death sticks just to piss off the advertisers!

    Please tell me how they can feed the population this bullshit and people can actually think we are funding rapist and illegal gun sales?

    Can they really not use this money for better things? Is illegal boxes of death sticks really breaking into there profit that much? Maybe we should take a stand and boycott BAT by funding the illegal trades?

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  14. Simon B says:

    The greatest thing you can do to demonstrate your resentment of this campaign is to cease smoking, if you currently do.


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  15. Andrea says:

    So glad someone got around to ripping this campaign to shreds.

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  16. Tim says:

    When I saw this campaign I thought, “Why would he want to buy a gun and rob/kill people?” Is it a means for making more money then he currently does? Cos then surely once he gets the gun he stops selling the cigarettes in order to pursue his more lucrative avenues of income, effectively ending his threat to BAT. In which case BAT are really just doing it out of the goodness of their tar blackened hearts, cough, cough.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article. How the hell is Mahala not more popular than it is? I don’t see anyone else cutting through the veil of bullshit like this article does.

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  18. RickyDee says:

    The only question is how does Andy top this?

    Great article.

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  19. Not so simple says:

    Ever heard of Vernon Aspeling? He was state witness in a case against a gang of cigarette hi-jackers and smugglers:


    These guys are no joke.

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  20. danni says:

    great article andy!

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  21. Maka says:

    Smartest point of view I have come across in a long time. Refreshing to see others not falling for BS. I was accused of being ignorant and insensitive to the illegal cigeratte crisis upon questioning this INSULTING campaign. Great article.

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  22. dwight says:

    Fucking excellent bit of writing this!

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  23. Anonymous says:

    Interesting commentary.. I would like you to comment on the Law Enforcement officer that was shot outside his home in KZN for investigating the trade in illegal cigarettes recently… would your comments still read the same when you know that a father, friend and family member had a “hit” taken out on him.. In particular given the supportive comments of illegal traders above..?

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  24. Lizzy says:

    yeah anonymous, we’ve all watched ‘thank you for smoking’, so quit the crap.

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  25. dwight says:

    Anonymous – I’m not quite sure what to make of your comment. This article exposes the bullshit of BAT marketing dressed up and presented as an awareness campaign. BAT doesn’t give a flying fuck about gangsterism or hits taken out on policemen. They’re only interested in their bottom line and quashing any outside factors which may affect it negatively. If they truly cared about the scourge of gangsterism they would’ve been campaigning against it years ago… it’s not exactly a new phenomenon. Neither is drug addiction. And no, I’m not condoning illegal cigarettes… neither did the writer. The point here is how the campaign attempts to glorify legal cigarettes.

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  26. Not so simple says:

    I think the point Anonymous is trying to make is that although the article might not condone illegal cigarettes, it fudges the issue when dealing with the seriousness of crimes that some cigarette smugglers are involved in.

    Not to say that there isn’t marketing BS behind BATSA’s motives, but it is a bit of an understatement to describe these synidicates as being “involved in a range of crimes” and turning “a tidy profit.”

    The article seems to suggest that it is merely fearmongering but the fact is that smuggling syndicates are involved in very serious crimes such as murder of policemen, state witnesses, and in one instance the kidnapping of two 10 year old kids FFS!

    Just to put things in perspective.

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  27. Andy says:

    Wouldn’t it be better for BAT to invest the R8.5million in a new police/customs unit focussing on illegal cigarettes?

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  28. Not so simple says:

    @Andy: Maybe so. I’m not saying this campaign is money well spent. All I’m saying, and I think that’s what Anonymous is saying too, is that we shouldn’t gloss over the seriousness of the crime involved. Suggesting that this whole cigarette smuggling business is a storm in a tea cup is irresponsible and inaccurate. That may not have been the intention of the article, but that’s how it comes across… to me anyway.

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  29. Gdog says:

    Enjoyed this, thanks.

    One other nuance not mentioned here is that of the race-indeterminate, politically correct criminal. The guy is not black, he is of some mixed race and it is tricky to see what race it is actually. He certainly seems to have some african roots, possibly some South American, maybe some European and possibly even a hit of Asian, Middle Eastern or North African. He may be from Mitchell’s Plain or Sao Paolo, Guatamala or Portugal, Morocco or possibly a London immigrant from somewhere. He is Mr International bad guy. This is not simply a case of scaring SA into not smoking illegal cigarettes by playing on the fears of all races (Malcolm Gladwell has demonstrated at Harvard that even African Americans fear black more than white), it also shows the tobacco industry as masters of covering their own hypocritical asses and deflecting attention from their shortcomings to attack their competitors. For an industry that systematically addicts, diseases and murders its clients, I could think of a bunch of ads I would rather see about the tobacco industry instead of those highlighting the few that circumvent its powerful grasp.

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  30. Andy says:

    Hey Gdog check the “google research” link near the top of the story – to see the original stock image… definitely a latino gangster vibe…

    Not so simple, may aim was not to gloss over the seriousness of some of the crime involved in illegal cigarettes… we get that from the ads themselves. Bad people sell illegal cigs. But that’s very far from the whole story.

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  31. Not so simple says:

    @Andy: Agreed.

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  32. Shukri kadri says:

    BAT ten down the hatches matey the pirates are holding SARS to ransom

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  33. Anonymous says:

    I love how every time I buy a R9 pack of Pacific I’m sending another child into the human trafficking trade.

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  34. Ed says:

    Morally and ethically bankrupt BAT preaching honour to us. Problem is that all this controversy is exactly the response BAT is trying to achieve. The more the cigarette advertising debate (either positive or negative) is publicised, the more exposure BAT receives for its product. By allowing this campaign, government not only contradicts its policy of banning cigarette advertising, it is stimulating exponentially more exposure for BAT than the R8.5m being outlayed

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  35. Ted 1 says:

    What about DUNHILL Billboard over the N3 Highway, They think people are stupid, BAT is promoting DUNHILL cigarettes not perfume…MUst boycott this kind of adverts and products that they are promoting…This is a porfect example of illegal cigarettes…Shops must remove it from their shelves..

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  36. Gerry says:

    BAT is originally from Zim, they still operate there, making cigarettes. They obviously do not pay the same tax in Zim as here. Could be they are sending some of their production here and do not like competition in the monkey business area either.

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  37. smokers says:

    if we all start thinking and do some diging and planting tobacco seeds (smokers that is) then we can all die happly smoking ever after,, grow ur own roll ur own smoke ur own! fuck bat and fillip and sars if we look at the hole picture ul understand crime wil continue with or with out illigal cigs!!! use it dont use it!

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  38. Anonymous says:

    The real question is why is Zimbabwe (despite all its economic ills) able to produce cheaper cigarrettes than more developed RSA. A 50 case of cigarettes is bought for R1110 in Zimbawe or Mozambique (That is R22 per 10 by 20’s which translates to R2.20 for a 20 pack of cigarettes after paying Zimbabwean/Mozambique’s sin taxes and production costs). This cartoon is then transported by various means (read costs) to RSA and sold at R2750 (R55 per 10 by 20’s which is R5.50 for 20 pack of cigarettes) to a dealer (wholesaler) this is then sold at (R70 – R80 ….) to a spaza owenr who then sales it at R5500 (R90- R100 ..which is R10 for a pack of 20 ciggies). This means a product grown in southern africa, taxed and transported in southern africa is still sold cheaper than a product produced in southern africa with similar labour and production dynamics. Definitely someone is making a killing from legal cigarettes. if an unemployed youth is able to buy a carton of cigarettes for R1100 and sell it at R2750 making ahealthy profit of R1650 say less costs of R650. This means if he does this 5 times a month he can escape poverty at R5000 per month (try living off R0 per month). The reality of the situation is that from the planting of the seed to the finally lighting of the cigarette in RSA each cigarette feeds, clothes and educates a nation a little more than the legal cigarette probably does given the widespread graft in Africa. In the universe for every good there is an equal number of bads. However, no matter what the RSA government does it can not stop people in trying to escape hunger unless they make their cigarettes competitive. The illegal cigarettes will continue as has happened elsewhere in the world.

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  39. cockhorser says:

    Christ on a fucken rope! As if “legal” ciggies save lives. BAT can go fuck their cancerous mothers.

    Great article.

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  40. Lewis says:

    All middle-upperclass South Africans deserve to confront this guy in their living rooms.

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  41. rory says:

    It’s a simple campaign.

    our cigarettes are ‘good’ cigarettes. other cigarettes are ‘bad’.

    it’s an attempt to rationalise the purchase of smokes by guilt ridden smokers. it’s a stretch, but any positive association helps.

    it’s the very basic of human psychology, link a product with a positive mindeset

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  42. Meg says:

    Fucking A!!!

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  43. Meg says:

    Just Brilliant!

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  44. Rhonda says:

    Hypocrisy …… what a load of BS – that radio ad on 5 totally sucks!

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  45. Tino E Cape says:

    Happy xmis SARS !! This posts highlight the fact that it’s cheaper to smuggle cheapies then trade legal.most of the people here pay their arsses off on taxes,+- 3 months a year of their salary cheque so that you can spend it on shit like this.then they pay 30 bucks a pack of smokes manufactured under 2 bucks a pack of 20’s.better for them to buy a carton from me for R80.They save R220.and show the big gun BAT a middle finger !! Yeas my fellow men & woman,i sell & deliver to your home town illigel brands.you might cough/choke for a day or so,but,what the hell,smoking is not for pissy’s ! Drop me a sms 0711066089.

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