By the time of going to press, the wise old owl controlling our State of Disaster may still be treating us like naughty Grade 10 school kids for smoking. Well, whether the ban has been lifted or not, let’s pop open the bonnet and find out how the engine keeps running and belching smoke – without petrol, apparently.

Those with a long-standing affair with Miss Nicky-T may well inhale through the mouth, but pay through the nose to satisfy the temptress. Despite SARS losing billions in sin taxes, and with contraband smokes now three or four times the normal price, at least some folks are keeping their tills ringing and the home-fires burning. As Shakespeare wrote: Where there’s fire, there’s smokes.

Now, we all know that banning something often creates more demand. Movies and books have glamorised the covert chicanery during America’s Prohibition era of the last century, when alcohol was outlawed.

Result? Bootlegging became almost a national sport as hill-billies and city-slickers alike set up moonshine stills and produced hooch which could easily substitute as paint-stripper or aeroplane fuel if packaged differently.

The pub/tavern was replaced by the ‘speak-easy’ where this moonshine shone brightly on those behind its locked doors, and as the name implies, tongues loosened and folks still got legless anyway. However, the moon couldn’t have shone without the dubiously-connected cabals controlling these outlets. Like the Mafia for example, with a couple of strategic politicians chucked in as silent partners.

Here in South Africa, both Madame Moonshine and Miss Nicky-T were locked up in the same cell for a while. Then, strangely, they released the Madame, not only back into bottle stores but also as take-away from restaurants, which wasn’t allowed before. But there’s talk of locking her up again, though…

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Nicky-T fan club has sprung into action. Covert communications via social media and the good old telephone are established, and haggling between suppliers and distributors is rampant. The end user has no say – they just have to cough en betaal.

So, the supply chain is operating smoothly, but where do these illegal smokes come from and who makes them? A bouquet of questionable brands sneak in from neighbouring states, but local production is where things get a bit messy…

Among the contraband going up in smoke are never-heard-of-before brands like Premium, Phoenix, Red&Black, F1 and Kings, from various manufacturers like Carnilinx and Amalgamated Tobacco. And here, without mentioning names, the word Zuma pops up, with connections not only to a son of the Nkandla King, but also with the long association between the Minister of Cold Turkey herself and Adriano Mazotti, a self-confessed smoke-smuggler. But that’s another story…

Back to the addicts. Non-smokers will be horrified, but here are a few tips we’ve picked up along the way. Firstly, if desperate, ditch any ideas you had about your dignity – it’s a messy business. Without shame, raid your/neighbours’ ashtrays and dustbins for stompies. Those last couple of un-smoked centimetres when emptied out, make up a few extra ‘rollers’. Save the filters.

Mix this with a packet of pipe tobacco, also outlandishly priced, and some lavender or catnip – for a slight buzz, apparently. The problem is ‘papers’. Manufactured papers fit perfectly into a rolling machine, with a sticky edge to lick your creation tightly closed. But papers are rare as frog feathers, so now what?

The dilemma is securing your rollie so it doesn’t unravel like a burst boerewors. Spit only works in cowboy movies. Newspaper is too thick, so in prison we used the phonebook and also had access to another popular book with very fine paper, but moving on…

How about Pritt, sticky-tape or super-glue? (Unhealthy?) Or egg-white? (Nutritious?) Envelopes have a sticky strip, and there’s… Oops, gotta go. 

But how things have changed! Puffing tobacco is illegal now, but growing/smoking cannabis isn’t. Weird. Best not to smoke at all though, ?

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