Even if you think you are not interested in the tobacco cartels and their turf wars, or the different brands of cigarettes and who owns what, this book is bound to hook you into finding out about those strange, new brands in your local shop.
The aptly titled Tobacco Wars points to the turf wars between the mainstream brands and the counterfeit tobacco companies in southern Africa.
When I started reading the work by Johann van Loggerenberg, I began towards the middle. I do this habitually to judge whether the book is interesting and I should go back and start at chapter one, or just read on. It turned out to be so interesting I had to go back to understand how it all happened – I was hooked.
A colleague, Amanda, has been trying hard to steal the book from me, but she has not succeeded so far.
I know the old brands of cigarettes and although I am a nonsmoker, I was curious to find out about the fancy names that have flooded onto our shores as smuggled counterfeits.
Counterfeit products are notorious for destroying local jobs because local production lines are bypassed.
Van Loggerenberg tells the tale of the cigarette manufacturing companies’ wars, the spy games they play on one another, the dirty tricks they use to destroy each other and their never-ending attempts to avoid paying tax and exercise duties.
The latter particularly applies to the smugglers, which are the smaller informal firms.
The “Big Boys”, as he calls the long-established big-name brands epitomised by British American Tobacco South Africa and others that together have the biggest slice of the pie, are always looking to get rid of the small firms, which smuggle counterfeit cigarettes into South Africa.
Enemies’ products and property, including trucks, are sabotaged and state security forces, who are are hired to spy, are always deeply involved in the conflicts.
At the centre of the spy network is Walter, a lawyer and a femme fatale who seems to enjoy playing double agent. She is willing to spy for anyone who needs information on the activities of their enemy, switching sides at any time.
Van Loggerenberg has an insider’s knowledge of the industry, having been a tax investigator in the South African Revenue Service’s (Sars) Project Honey Badger, which investigated the massive tax evasion by industry players.
The plot to discredit the investigative arm of Sars for which Van Loggerenberg worked was hatched in tobacco war circles. It had to be done because the unit was a stumbling block in the powerful tobacco corporates’ collusion and tax avoidance scams, running into billions of rands.
Former intelligence and police officials working for the corporates as investigators and spies are guiding the fight and often conduct bogus raids against the smaller players.
This dirty war is ongoing. But one thing is for sure, since the smaller manufacturers arrived on the scene, the industry has never been the same.
Although the Big Boys still dominate, their monopoly has been broken by the newcomers. The market is now full of cheap brands and some of the old mainstream brands have disappeared from the SA market.
All these details and more are in this book.
Tobacco Wars – Inside the spy games and dirty tricks of southern Africa’s cigarette trade
Author: Johann van Loggerenberg