Establishment Media & Big Tobacco

By Pinky Khoabane

THE vicious and sinister attacks by establishment media and several influential people on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, following the announcement of the extension of the ban on cigarettes, have brought into sharp focus the association between Big Tobacco and media and the age-old tactics the former adopts in influencing public perception on tobacco use. 

To understand fully the well-choreographed attack on Dlamini-Zuma requires an understanding of the ownership of Big Tobacco companies in South Africa and their hold on other sectors including establishment media and alcohol industries. 

British American Tobacco-SA (BAT-SA), which threatened to take legal action if Dlamini-Zuma did not alter the regulations to include the lifting of the cigarettes ban, is part-owned by SA’s tobacco kingpin and Remgro’s Chairman Johann Rupert.

Rupert’s Reinet Investments held 2.85 percent of BAT’s issued share capital as at December 2019, according to its management statement published in January.

The value of this investment in BAT stood at €2.5 billion as at 31 December, representing 45.8 percent of Reinet’s net asset value. Rupert’s Remgro also held BAT shares previously, but unbundled them in 2008 at a total value of R55.2 billion.

BAT-SA is the largest manufacturer of cigarettes in South Africa, holding an estimated 74% of the legal market with over 20 out of around 30 brands. BAT is the second largest cigarette manufacturer in the world.

The tobacco manufacturing industry in South Africa, is estimated to be worth around R30bn and supported by nearly 8 million adult tobacco users, according to a report  “The South African Tobacco Industry 2019”. 

Remgro has an effective interest of 32.3% in eMedia Investments that has a range of media interests, which include eNews Channel Africa (eNCA)

It is therefore not surprising that in addition to the slew of attacks on Dlamini-Zuma was the embarrassing and openly propagandist opinion on eNCA by Jane Dutton and Xoli Mngambi. It was unfair on both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma and simply shallow on facts. 

They opened their programme thus: 

Dutton: “Who’s controlling South Africa’s narrative right now? Not the President but Cogta’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. How? She used her power and influence to ensure the ban on cigarette sales would continue”. 

Mngambi continued: “Well just one move and it was done. Why did she do that? Is it because the President is popular right now? Or is it a reminder that the party politics at Luthuli House, the rivalry there is still much at play?”

As we know and they should have known, Dlamini-Zuma was mandated by the President to manage the government’s response to the corona-virus pandemic and mentions, in the gazettes published, the fact that the Covid-19 Regulations are made in consultation with the ministers relevant to the particular regulation. 

Despite widespread knowledge of the association between tobacco and lung cancer, known as far back as the 1950s, establishment media shied away from publishing the health risks of cigarette smoking.Tobacco companies have influenced the narrative of cigarette smoking through massive amounts of money spent on advertising in the press or sponsorships of events, largely targeting the youth. And in some instances sponsoring media awards and journalism institutions. 

Since the imposition of restrictions on tobacco advertising across the world, the industry has found crafty ways of communicating its products. 

This is an industry that employs big public relations firms and consultancies to lobby politicians and influential people including journalists for staggering amounts of money for their clients to get to influence policies and shift MPs and political leaders in a certain direction on various issues imperative to them or their businesses.

According to, “one of the earlier documented examples was in 1953, when with the help of a leading public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton, the tobacco industry formed a strategy that relied heavily on concentrated contact with journalists, editors, and scientists. Each time the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) issued a press release, Hill and Knowlton would initiate ‘personal contact’ with the media.

“Hill & Knowlton’s strategy was to attempt to persuade members of the media to: 

  1. Note that the industry completely understood its important public responsibilities 
  2. Affirm that the industry was deeply committed to investigating all of the scientific questions relevant to resolving the controversy 
  3. Urge scepticism regarding statistical studies 
  4. Offer a long list of independent sceptics to consult to ensure balance in their presentations.7

“It also gathered information on new scientific findings so that the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) could prepare an attack as soon as the findings were released.6 On occasion, the TIRC would issue a rebuttal on new findings, prior to their release. 

“Media reporting on tobacco industry-funded reports 

Due to the high level of distrust among the public, the tobacco industry increasingly relies on third parties to disseminate its messages. Each of the major tobacco companies have funded major consultancy firms, such as KPMG LLP and Deloitte, to produce reports purporting to show the ineffectiveness of tobacco control measures, or to claim that such measures are creating a dramatic increase in the illicit tobacco trade”.

Here in South Africa, apart from the public outcry on the ban, there was a sudden focus on the increase in illicit cigarette trade in an attempt to influence the decision on the cigarettes ban. The posts came from authors, lawyers and journalists. There were stories on the negative impact of the ban on cigarette smokers almost to elicit sympathy and a possible shift in policy. 

Funding Research Which Goes Against Governments’ Policies on Tobacco 

IN October 2013, auditing firm KPMG published a report which claimed that “volumes of illicit manufactured cigarettes had increased by 154% since 2012.” The year 2012 was when Australia introduced a law on mandatory packaging for cigarettes that removes brand colours and logos from packaging.

The law requires cigarettes to be sold in olive green packets, with graphic images warning of the consequences of smoking.

The KPMG research, funded by big tobacco companies Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Tobacco  just so happened to prove the industry’s argument, in Australia and elsewhere, that the introduction of plain packaging and other measures of curbing cigarette smoking, would lead to an increase in tobacco smuggling.

The volumes of column space dedicated to the ferocious attacks on Dlamini-Zuma this past week remind us of the wrath she received from media and Big Tobacco when she banned smoking in public spaces and advertising of tobacco products. 


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  1. Onesided journalism at best. Stop your ignorance, This is not a well choreographed attack by big companies or their influence, but it is the voice of smokers all over South Africa, whose basic constitutional rights have been infringed by the one-sided, stupid ban on tobacco products. So,your mother tells you how to work? Raise your kids? What to wear? When and what to eat??

    Please, get real

    1. Johny Meyer, you are obviously a smoker who is within your rights to be angry because you want to kill yourself with cigarettes and someone else only says no today when you’ve been on this campaign all your life.

      But you are confusing this article with what you think is the voice of cigarette smokers. Big Tobacco doesnt give a hoot about you but money. This article is about how it controls various industries to promote it’s murderers products. Of course it needs you to think it speaks for you so you can smoke more and for it to make money.

      I believe smokers have been discriminated against by policy makers, not now but forever. I also believe some of the regulations are completely irrational and I have publicly placed this on platforms here and elsewhere.

      But do I give a damn that you want to kill yourself with cigarettes? No I dont. I care more about the impact of alcohol on the conduct of others which might affect me.



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