Time for local authorities to kick the habit and ditch their investments in the tobacco industry

It's hugely hypocritical to tell smokers to quit while making money from them

Share
Related Topics

Each year 100,000 people in the UK die from smoking. No surprise then that the Government wants 210,000 people to quit the habit every year until 2015, as part of a smoking cessation scheme. But, in a move akin to giving lung cancer patients’ cigarettes at the same time as chemotherapy – the public sector, through the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), has over £1 billion invested in tobacco companies. Hypocritical doesn’t begin to cover it.

When responsibility for public health was passed over from NHS to local authorities in April this year, these public institutes became responsible for tobacco control in their local areas. Yet, these bodies whose job it is to improve public health have money invested in companies such as British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco.  They say they have a fiduciary obligation to maximize return on investment. Still, it begs the question: why do Local Authorities invest in an industry that kills people, and one they’re simultaneously trying to halt?

Last year Stewart Brock, Honorary Research Fellow at University of Bath, used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal the extent of local authorities’ tobacco investments, and found that only 10 of 78 Local Authorities had no investments in tobacco, while the collective investment was reported to be a massive £1.6bn. This hit the news, and then - as is the nature of news -everyone moved on. The subject seems to have fallen deathly quiet of late.

But to this day we are reminded of the terrible damage smoking causes to public health - and the huge amount it costs the NHS -  by institutes that have large sums of money invested in  said industries. Merton Council is a good example – they have £5m invested in tobacco; yet spend a reported £164,000 on NHS Stop Smoking services.

Dr. Gabriel Scally, former Regional Director of Public Health for South West, said: “local authorities should divest [these interests] – firstly, it’s grossly unethical and potentially challengeable in law, and secondly there are plenty of other good things they could invest that money in, for example social bonds or housing.

“There’s a range of alternatives they have and they need to start living up to their obligations to improve public health. They obviously put financial benefits before the health of people in their local area.”

It's hard to argue with Dr. Scally's statement. The sad thing is that people carrying out good work in smoking prevention, such as Action on Smoking and Health, a charity, are being undermined by local authorities’ absurd investment schemes. MPs and public health professionals should be more vocal, and campaign against this hypocritical ‘do as I say, not as I do’ position.

The last public health professional to speak out against these controversial investments was Dr. Marion Gibbon, in an appearance on BBC Radio Kent a couple of months ago. Gibbon was subsequently given the option to either accept a warning, which would stay on record for 12 months, or face disciplinary action for the broadcast. Kent Council was accused of gagging free speech. Surely their actions send out a warning to health professionals who do not follow the party line, and such censorship is shameful and undemocratic. 

The guardians of public health should start complying with their own mission statements on tobacco control and prevention, or expect the erosion of public trust. It’s tough to marry ethics and investment, but this particular union is long overdue a divorce.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Recruitment Genius: ORM / Online Reputational Consultant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ORM Consultant is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Katie Price is due to divorce second husband Alex Reid today  

Lay off Katie Price – she’s entitled to state help for her disabled son

Rosie Millard
Burning vehicles are seen near the village of Ghajar on Israel's border with Lebanon January 28, 2015  

Israel vs Hezbollah: Why another war is unlikely

Maya Gebeily
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore