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I’ve been reporting on the tobacco industry and its tactics in South Africa for just over a year now.  The stories this sector delivers could come straight out of a spy-movie.

Although at times their schemes have been a bit more Johnny English than James Bond.

There was that time, for example, that tobacco industry spies sneaked into a public health meeting where researchers and doctors were working on a plan to battle what they believe is the latest wave of the tobacco epidemic: e-cigarettes. 

In the spies’ defence —  they did RSVP. 

Nonetheless, they were kicked out dramatically. 

But some of the tobacco industry’s tricks have turned out to be far more nefarious.

Last year, Bhekisisa revealed that the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (Tisa) paid local social media activists to tweet about its TakeBackTheTax campaign. The campaign punted an industry-funded report into the illicit cigarette trade and urged the government to take it seriously. 

The online push was suspiciously timed to coincide with harsh new tobacco legislation. Our article called it a “ploy to undermine new government efforts to curb tobacco use in the country.” 

But, we slipped up and didn’t put the allegation to Tisa directly. As a result, they hit back with a response denying they had any intention to hinder the country’s tobacco control efforts.  

In his new book, Tobacco Wars, former Sars-official Johann van Loggerenberg reveals that in fact, the article may just have hit too close to home.  

Catch all the exhilarating details here

Happy reading,  


Help us keep quality health journalism and social justice reporting free. Click here.
Remember Tobacco’s #TakeBackTheTax campaign? Well, after you read this, you’ll never look at it the same way. (Nicole De Khors, Burst)
Last year we reported on Big Tobacco's #TakeBackTheTax campaign and asked whether the adverts were, in part, aimed at undermining the new tobacco control Bill.

In the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa's (Tisa) right of reply, it assured us it would do no such thing.

Then, former Sars official Johann van Loggerenberg dished all the back story in his new book. And by "all", we really mean "all".

Turns out, we may not have been as far off the mark as Tisa would have you believe. 

Read an excerpt of the book here

In case you missed it, we reported on Big Tobacco buying Twitter and took them on about a dodgy vape statistic claiming vaping is 95% safer than cigarettes.

Oh, and a year later, Tisa still haven't shown us the data...

Like what you're reading? Give it a share on Twitter:
Remember #TakeBackTheTax? Find out what really led up to the social media campaign in this new book, via @Bhekisisa_MG: Remember #TakeBackTheTax? Find out what really led up to the social media campaign in this new book, via @Bhekisisa_MG:

Opportunities from around the web:

Call for proposals, African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD): African Researchers' Small Grants Program

The ARNTD with support from the United States Agency for International Development and the United Kingdom (UK) aid from the UK government through the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases is seeking grant proposals.

Proposals will be for both operational and social science research on emerging challenges facing NTD programme implementation in Africa. 

Researchers — especially junior researchers and academics based in research institutions or universities in Africa may apply.

The small grants targeted at junior and senior researchers at the masters or PhD level will provide grants ranging from USD$5 000 to $25 000. 

Applications are accepted in both English and French.

Deadline: 30 September
Find out more

Call for papers, BioMed Central (BMC)

Submissions are now open to contribute manuscripts to the following journals: BMC Public Health; Environmental Health; Environmental Sciences Europe; Globalization and HealthMicrobiome and One Health Outlook.

The theme across all journals is environmental justice. Papers should shed light on the contribution evidence-based research can give to develop better practices and policies towards stronger environmental justice.

Submissions can include but are not limited to research on air pollution, sewage management, water systems management, drinking water quality and pesticides.

Deadline: 1 November
Find out more

Call for abstracts, Health Systems Trust

Abstract submissions are now open for the 2020 edition of the South African Health Review (SAHR). The coming edition's theme is equitable healthcare for people with disabilities in South Africa.

The Health Systems Trust is seeking abstracts providing fresh insights into health systems strengthening efforts for equitable healthcare for persons with disabilities. Preference will be given to manuscripts that take into account the complexities and opportunities for developing and sustaining inclusive health systems, especially in the context of universal health coverage.

The review will represent an evidence base which can be used to strengthen health systems and services to inform future policy development in South Africa.

Deadline: 31 October
Find out more

Call for applications, Rise Up: Gender Equity Initiative (GEI)

Rise Up, a leader in the global movement for gender equity launched the GEI in partnership with Cummins Inc. in order to advance education, opportunity, social justice and gender equity in South Africa.

The organisation will select 20 civil society and non-profit leaders from Gauteng and Durban to participate in a week-long advocacy and leadership accelerator workshop in February 2020. The purpose of the workshop is to build their advocacy capacity, strengthen leadership skills and develop a holistic understanding of the issues affecting women and girls in their communities.

Leaders will then have the opportunity to apply for competitive seed funding to launch their strategies to advance gender equity and justice across the country.

Deadline: 28 October
Find out more

Call for public comment, National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill 

The Portfolio Committee on Health invites stakeholders and interested parties to submit written submissions on the NHI Bill. The objective of the Bill is to achieve universal access to quality health care services in South Africa as per Section 27 of the Constitution. 

As part of this, the Bill sets up the creation of an NHI Fund and outlines its powers, functions and governance structures. The Fund will be used to strategically purchase healthcare services on behalf of citizens and certain categories of foreign nationals to ensure the equitable, effective and efficient utilisation of its resources.

Deadline: 11 October
Click here to submit your comment
For any inquiries email Vuyokazi Majalamba or call her on 021 403 3770 or 083 709 8522

PS. Planning on making a submission and want your views heard? Help us broaden the public debate on the National Health Insurance. Add your submission to our public repository.

Partnership opportunity, Rise Against Hunger: 2020 Nourishing Lives

The international hunger relief organisation Rise Against Hunger seeks to partner with organisations around the world to provide food and other life-changing assistance to the world's most vulnerable. The organisation provides fortified rice-soy meals.

Rise Against Hunger has opened applications for the provision of food assistance for meal, nutrition and medical programmes under its "Nourishing Lives" programme.

The organisation will evaluate partnership applications by the level of need within the community, the sustainability of the organisation's programme, its ability to import and manage in-country distribution as well as its ability to conduct monitoring and evaluation.

Deadline: 30 September
Find out more

Call for applications: Advocacy fellows, AVAC

AVAC’s Advocacy Fellows Programme launched in 2009 to expand the capacity of advocates and organisations to accelerate, shape and monitor biomedical HIV prevention research and implementation worldwide.

Seventy Fellows have moved through the programme in its first 10 years, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in the HIV movement in their communities, countries and globally.

The programme is aimed at emerging or mid-career community leaders in low and middle-income countries where biomedical HIV prevention or cure research is ongoing or planned. 

Deadline: 20 September
Click here to register
Click here to download the application materials

Call for experts: Technical Review Panel, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria

The Global Fund’s Technical Review Panel is an independent group of experts that review funding applications. The Fund relies on the Panel to ensure its investments are strategically focused and aligned to the Global Fund Strategy 2017-2022.

The Fund is now calling for healthcare and development professionals to serve on the body. Applicants should be experts in one or more of the following areas: HIV, TB, malaria, health systems strengthening, human rights and gender and financing, among others.

Successful candidates will have strong academic credentials and broad experience in programme development and will help the fund review and make recommendations regarding country funding applications.

Deadline: 15 September
Find out more

Regional stakeholder engagement advisor, AVAC — New York

The advocacy organisation, AVAC, seeks to employ a regional stakeholder engagement advisor. 

The advisor will provide technical, content-focused support to the organisation's research engagement activities, with a focus on activities in East and Southern Africa.

The successful candidate will have a passion for and experience in HIV prevention research advocacy. The candidate will also have a bachelors degree in a relevant field or a master's degree and/or experience in public or global health, development or other relevant fields.

Find out more

Call for female experts in any field, Quote This Woman+ — Various locations

Quote This Woman+ is a project of the non-profit Media Monitoring Africa to establish an online database of women and non-binary experts to improve gender representation in sourcing among the media. During the election season alone, Quote This Woman+ fielded more than 500 calls from journalists wanting to increase the voices of women in the media.

Keen to be quoted? Submit your details to

Deadline: N/A
Find out more

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The Bhekisisa Team
Copyright © 2019 Bhekisisa Development Media NPC. All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, Metal Box
25 Owl Street, 4th Floor, Braamfontein Werf, 2092, Johannesburg, South Africa

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