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Cumbria councils' millions invested in tobacco

Millions of pounds from pension funds held for local authority workers across Cumbria have been invested in major tobacco firms.

Cumbria County Council, which also manages pension money for district councils such as Carlisle Copeland and Allerdale, has confirmed that more than £8m of the fund has been ploughed into the tobacco industry.

One senior county councillor today called for an urgent review of the investment strategy adopted by the authority, which is a leading campaigner on the health risks of smoking. The county’s director of public health, Professor John Ashton, has also questioned the investment strategy, urging the county council to turn its back on tobacco.

Experts estimate that smoking-related illness kills 900 people in the county every year and some councillors have expressed dismay that the fund helps prop up the international tobacco industry. Figures obtained by the News & Star show that in September last year £8,325,355 from the county’s local authorities pensions pot had been invested in three tobacco giants – Japan Tobacco Incorporated, British American Tobacco PLC, and the Imperial Tobacco Group PLC.

With the total pension fund worth £1.4bn, the investment is less than one per cent of the total.

The information was released following a Freedom of Information request.

Colin Pawson, 60, from Frizington, was a smoker for 30 years when he was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago.

“It’s shocking to find out they’re investing in something that is killing millions of people,” said Mr Pawson, a father of four.

“They’d be better off investing their money in something local. They have a moral duty not to invest in tobacco.”

County councillor Bill Wearing, chairman of the authority’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, was also taken aback to learn that local pension money is supporting tobacco. He said: “It’s something we need to look at urgently.”

Barbara Cannon, who represents Workington’s Moss Bay ward on the county council, also has a specialist interest in health issues. She said of the tobacco firm investments: “This shouldn’t be happening. I’m disappointed this is the case.”

Willie Whalen represents Castle ward on the county and Carlisle City councils, and has campaigned on the health dangers of asbestos.

He said: “I wouldn’t criticise people who are addicted to tobacco, but as a local authority we should be setting an example. We can’t be telling people not to smoke for health reasons while at the same time putting funds into tobacco. We have a responsibility to do the right moral thing.

“You also have to ask, when our country is on its uppers financially, why are we investing in a Japanese tobacco company? That money should go into British industry.”

Carlisle city councillor Doreen Parsons, a former Marie Curie cancer nurse, said: “I don’t think this investment is a good idea at all. “Only last week we had No Smoking Day. It’s not a healthy investment.”

Some councillors said they appreciated that fund managers were trying to achieve the best returns.

“It’s the job of fund managers to get the best return, but when that council is against smoking the one aim contravenes the other,” said Alan Toole, who represents Belah in Carlisle.

Cockermouth county councillor Eric Nicholson said the investments were “not ideal,” but added: “But we need to get the best value for our investment.”

Professor Ashton, director of public health for the NHS Cumbria primary care trust, said: “Cumbria needs to put itself alongside the most progressive councils which have turned their back on investing in tobacco. Smoking is the single most important behavioural thing that we can change to improve health and increase a person’s life expectancy.

"“If we wish to be seen as a pioneer, and at the forefront of public health, then we need to sort this out."

On Cumbria County Council’s website, the authority has issued a clear statement of its determination tackle the health risks of smoking.
It states: “Smoking is one of Cumbria’s biggest killers. Every year 900 people in the county die due to smoking related diseases.
“The Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee has been looking at what’s being done in Cumbria to help people stop smoking and to curb illegal trading in tobacco.”

Newham Borough Council in London has excluded tobacco firms from its pension investments portfolio.

Have your say

E, Labour was in power for thirteen years, have you forgotten???

Posted by anon on 22 March 2012 at 16:08

Tobacco shares are one of the safest on the market. Councils lost a lot of money investing in Icelandic banks. I know where I want Councils to invest our money.

Posted by Charles on 21 March 2012 at 17:22

View all 21 comments on this article

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