Feature Public Health

How the new guardians of public health are investing heavily in tobacco companies

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8023 (Published 28 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8023
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. jgornall{at}mac.com

When public health doctors move to local authorities next year, they could find that their pensions are being partly paid by the profits of the tobacco industry, Jonathan Gornall reports

Judging by the three day programme for this year’s conference of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, the people who administer in excess of £137bn (€170bn; $218bn) on behalf of 4.6 million members in England put ethical concerns on a par with other considerations when making investment decisions.

“Shareholder responsibilities” was the title of the 17th annual conference, held this week at Bournemouth’s Highcliff Marriott Hotel, and among the topics discussed were investor concerns about media standards, “fat cat” pay, and the ethical crisis in banking. There was, however, not a murmur about the ethics of investing in tobacco, despite the fact that most local authority pension funds in England have direct investments in the industry.

The full scale of the investment by local authority pension funds in the tobacco industry has come to light for the first time thanks to research carried out by a public health specialist. The issue is likely to come to a head in April next year, when responsibility for public health is to be transferred from primary care trusts to local authorities—along with the estimated 5000 NHS staff working in the sector.

Stewart Brock, a public health specialist working on tobacco control at NHS Somerset, made Freedom of Information applications to all 78 local authority funds in England. He discovered that all but 10 of the 78 had direct investments in one or more national or international tobacco companies, with a combined value of £1.64bn.

The total value of investments in tobacco is, however, likely to be much higher. Many, if not most, …

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