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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Council pension funds of £8m invested in tobacco industry

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 Copeland, has confirmed that more than £8m of the fund has been ploughed into the tobacco industry.

One senior county councillor has 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, Prof 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 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. “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.”

Prof 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 life expectancy.”

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