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Where there’s smoke, there’s money

The furore about the new anti-smoking legislation is not about individuals’ rights, argues Michael Metelits

Minister of Health Nkosazana Zuma’s Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill fired up a huge controversy as tobacco firms, lobbyists and unions squared off against the government and anti-smoking groups over sport sponsorships, smoking in public and advertising bans.

It’s tempting to say that the centre of it all is a conflict between those who want to spend a night out without second-hand smoke and those who want to indulge their legal addiction. But the heart of the matter is money.

New smokers and large-scale prestigious advertising contribute to the bottom line of tobacco firms and they are fighting hammer and tongs to preserve their current rights.

Dr Yussuf Saloojee, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking, estimates sport sponsorship by the tobacco industry at R48-million in South Africa.

He insists that replacement sponsors would not be difficult to come by. “Televised sports are very high-profile,” he says, “and sponsors want their brands associated with them.” He cites the recent Vodacom sponsorship of soccer and Standard Bank’s replacement of Benson & Hedges in cricket as examples

Rembrandt’s Anton Rupert attacked early versions of the Bill on the grounds of “freedom of commercial speech”. Organisations like the Food and Allied Workers’ Union have called the Bill a destroyer of jobs.

Saloojee argues that money will be spent on other economic sectors, fuelling growth and off-setting any job losses in the tobacco industry.

Measures contained in the Bill would merely bring South Africa’s tobacco regime in line with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Smoking is slowly on the wane in the industrialised world. And this is the source of much of the problem.

The 1997 agreement between various plaintiffs and five major tobacco firms, including Philip Morris and British-American Tobacco (BAT), to settle suits by American states for $368,5-billion seems to have shifted the battle’s location, not its substance.

Linda Mackay, director of the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco, argued last year that tobacco was a major threat to sustainable and equitable global development, promoting higher mortality and illness rates in developing countries which can afford them the least.

She suggests that “transnational tobacco companies” are targeting the Third World as markets dwindle in developed countries. A number of Asian countries have been threatened with trade sanctions on behalf of United States tobacco firms.

South Africa is one of those target markets selected to bolster the profits of BAT, Philip Morris, Richemont, RJ Reynolds (RJR), Gallaher and Imperial Tobacco. While the Rupert family is still prominent in the Rembrandt group – which is affiliated with Rothmans International – Swiss firm Richemont AG has a controlling interest in Rothmans. British firm BAT sells most of its cigarettes outside the United Kingdom and is publicly owned, as are Gallaher and Imperial, the other two large British firms.

BAT is probably the world’s second-largest tobacco firm, after Philip Morris. Gallaher delinked in 1997 from its parent company, American Brands, and has the largest share of the UK market. Philip Morris and RJR are publicly owned US firms, and the latter is controlled by RJR-Nabisco. BAT and the Rembrandt group are the major firms in South Africa, while French firm Seita licenses its Gauloise and Gitanes brands all over the world.

While all the major tobacco firms have diversified interests, they still make most of their money from tobacco, says Peter Armitage, an analyst for Merrill, Lynch. “Rembrandt is an investment trust with about 15 other holdings, but at least half their business is still tobacco.”

And that business is still profitable. BAT made 1,634-billion from tobacco in 1997. Rothmans International pulled in 810- million. Annual returns on investment, for example, for BAT were 16,49% in 1997, and Rembrandt returned 15,52% for the year ended 1998. These returns are in line with or better than the domestic bond market.

BAT experimented most with financial services, acquiring Allied Dunbar, Farmers Insurance and Threadneedle, but then split the group to merge those firms with Zurich Insurance. But most tobacco firms are still tobacco firms. Rather than diversify out of tobacco, they have decided to move into developing countries where there are fewer restrictions.

This would be fine if most of the lawsuits that are driving firms to these markets didn’t include memos like a 1980 Brown & Williamson note recommending the firm admit smoking is addictive and causes lung cancer, that they are selling habit-forming poison.

Mackay points out that the push on the part of these firms to sell cigarettes in the Third World is based on declining volume as a result of advertising bans in the developed world.

Segregation, a traditional remedy for social unease in the US and South Africa, may work, allowing non-smokers non-smoking areas, and letting smokers kill themselves slowly. Additional taxes could make cigarettes more expensive, but might off-set the social cost of medical treatments.

But the real issues aren’t rights; they’re money. How much money will tobacco firms make? How many jobs do the companies provide? How much revenue does the government make? How much will it cost to treat the effects of smoking? How much should smokers contribute to these costs by way of taxes? These issues are fuelling a debate over how much money we are prepared to allow cigarette firms to make, and at what cost.

@The enduring magic of primitive art

Stewart Dalby : Spending it

I have always thought of tribal art as a particularly specialised collecting field. Vast numbers of items are available, coming from a huge variety of sources. They range from paintings to sculptures, wood carvings, blankets, jewellery, pottery, basketwork and, not least, weaponry.

But the appeal seemed to me to be limited to museums and universities, professional ethnologists and eccentric travellers.

A few years back a record $3-million was paid for a Bangwa Queen sculpture from the Cameroon grasslands. But this looked a one- off type of price.

Now there is enough hype surrounding a forthcoming Sotheby’s sale of African and Oceanic art to suggest that it is a major auction date, just like an impressionist painting sale.

The highlight of the sale is a central patriarchal Maori wood figure.

The male figure, carved circa 1820, is probably from the East Coast Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand and is approximately 120cm high.

Maori figures such as this are referred to as pou tokomanawa. It has a face finely incised with personal tattooing, possibly traceable to a specific Maori chief.

Sotheby’s quoted from an essay on this piece by a renowned ethnographic art scholar and former director of the British Museum, William Fagg, who wrote: “A study of most of the literature of Maori art has revealed only a handful of works of art which stand on this elevated level of sculptural achievement, but none are so closely comparable to it and virtually all are in New Zealand museums.”

Before going on sale, when it is expected to fetch at least $1-million, it is being exhibited in Zurich, Paris, Los Angeles, as well as Tokyo and Sydney. Its sale could cause a furore in New Zealand as they do not like their treasures being exported.

Is it an example of tribal art jumping into the first division of auction sales? Well, Sotheby’s November 22 auction is taking place in New York, where Sotheby’s has all of its tribal art sales, since this, apparently, is where the interest is. The same goes for Christie’s.

The moves were sparked off by the great interest in pre-Columbian and other native American art. This has left the two much smaller of the big four auction houses, Phillips and Bonham’s, holding sales in London.

Siobhan Quin, a specialist at Phillips, believes there is a good niche market for tribal art. Like Bonham’s, Phillips hold two auctions a year. She is very upbeat. Despite all the really expensive stuff going to New York, there are some very collectable, and affordable, pieces which come on to the market in London.

For example, you can buy pre-Columbian art cheaply. Beautiful pottery vessels in the shape of frogs, panthers and warriors, from Peru or Mexico, can still be bought for R1 000.

Prices have certainly gone up in line with inflation in most cases. But they have not inflated impossibly.

At the other end of the scale, 16th-century and 17th-century West African bronzes can fetch R600 000. There is a lot in between.

One growth area is Aboriginal art from Australia. Philip Keith, the expert at Bonham’s, says that five or six years ago, boomerangs would have cost around R600. They now sell for between R4 000 and R6 000.

In a recent auction an Aboriginal parrying shield sold for R40 000 against an estimate of between R8 000 and R12 000.

Native North American Indian art remains popular in the United States, particularly beaded work. A beaded hide coat from the Olgaga Sioux sells from anything between R50 000 to R250 000.

Anything to do with Eskimos, or Inuit as they are now called, is also sought after. At Phillips’s next auction on November 27 an Aleutian hunter’s helmet carved in wood with feathers is estimated at between R50 000 and R70 000.

South African art has also become popular. A Sona headrest, a type of wood pillow used to support the neck and prevent elaborate hairstyles from being crushed, will cost anything from R5 000 to R10 000. Something like a Zulu snuff container, shaped like a diviner’s rod with the top carved like a stylised human head, would fetch several thousands of rands.

With tribal art, provenance is important because there are lots of fakes. It is important to know, if possible, where an article was found and in what condition or, for really expensive items, what collection or museums they have been in.

But clearly, the tribal art market is still one that caters for those long on enthusiasm but short on cash.

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Nosimilo Ndlovu
Guest Author

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