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May 30th, 2016:

Revealed: UK cancer research pensions investing millions in British American Tobacco

Pension plans for scientists working at Cancer Research UK are among those to have invested in British American Tobacco to the tune of £211 million (US$308 million).
The fund, which caters for university lecturers and staff, is worth just shy of £50 billion. Its biggest investment is in the equally-controversial Royal Dutch Shell company, with £344 million going to the latter, reported The Guardian.

News that Cancer Research UK money has essentially been used to both fight the effects of smoking and fund the tobacco industry comes as a shock to many.

A Universities UK spokesperson defended the choice of investments of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), insisting financial return takes precedence over the moral dilemmas raised.

“The USS, as part of its investment duties, takes into account wider social, ethical, and environmental and governance issues, so long as that ensures that the assets of the scheme are invested in the best financial interests of members and their beneficiaries,” they said.

Earlier this year the European Public Health Association (EUPHA) called on people and companies to stop investing in tobacco.

“For decades, it has actively sought to mislead the world about the harms caused by its products. It has corrupted public officials, been complicit in illicit activities such as smuggling, and has undermined legislation to protect the health of the public,” read the statement.

EUPHA President Professor Martin McKee added that “it is simply unacceptable that USS should continue to invest in this discredited industry.”

Cancer Research UK Tobacco Policy Manager George Butterworth admitted he was unhappy with the investment situation but insisted the Tobacco Free Portfolios movement shows that things can change.

“The tobacco industry’s deadly products are responsible for one in four cancer deaths. Many people would be shocked to learn that their pensions are invested in tobacco company shares – especially those striving to develop cures for diseases caused by this lethal industry,” Butterworth said.

“Cancer Research UK’s own pension funds are tobacco-free, but many of our researchers are based at institutions where that is not the case,” he added.

“To help make it easier for organisations’ pension schemes to opt out of tobacco shares, we’re now funding the UK arm of Tobacco Free Portfolios to encourage investment funds to divest from tobacco stocks. AXA’s move earlier this week to withdraw billions in investment from the tobacco industry shows what can be done.”

Determined activists drive tobacco control

Dr Hong Gwan Seo’s conversion to tobacco control activist began as he puffed on a cigarette reading medical literature on the harms caused by smoking.

“As a doctor I thought I knew the dangers, but as I read I realized smoking was crazy; it was like committing suicide slowly. So I quit.”

That was 1988, the year that the Korean Association on Smoking or Health (KASH) was founded. Since then, there have been two high points for advocates in South Korea, says Dr Seo. In 1995, the Health Promotion Act created smoke-free spaces and banned tobacco advertising.

In 2014-15, the government adopted a range of tobacco control (TC) measures: cigarette prices rose 80 percent thanks to a tax hike and it was announced that packages would have to carry graphic health warnings by December 2016.

Packham: For World No Tobacco Day, new packaging is goal

Sponsored by the World Health Organization and observed worldwide on May 31 each year, World No Tobacco Day highlights the health risks of tobacco use and promotes effective actions to reduce tobacco consumption. This year, World No Tobacco Day calls on countries worldwide to implement plain (standardized) packaging of tobacco products.

A key aim of World No Tobacco Day is to educate people about the work WHO undertakes in fighting the global tobacco epidemic. A large part of this work is educating the public about the manipulative tactics tobacco companies continue to use to “dupe” people into smoking their products.

Plain packaging of tobacco products is a proven tobacco control measure that restricts or prohibits the use of logos, colors, brand images or promotional information on packaging other than brand names and product names displayed in a standard color and font style.

Led by Australia and multiple nations in Western Europe, plain packaging represents an important demand-reduction measure that reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products. It also restricts use of tobacco packaging as a form of tobacco advertising and promotion, limits misleading packaging and labeling, and increases the effectiveness of health warnings. As such, plain packaging builds upon other evidence-based measures as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control.

According to WHO estimates, cigarette smoking kills nearly 6 million people around the world each year. In the United States, cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke remain the largest preventable cause of death and disease and is responsible for nearly 480,000 deaths each year – a figure that exceeds the number of Americans killed by alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

Closer to home, World No Tobacco Day provides an opportunity for policymakers and the public to address the unfinished business of tobacco control and prevention in Nevada.

Recent data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids documents tobacco’s toll on the next generation of Nevadans. Currently, 10.3 percent of Nevada high school students smoke, nearly 1,800 Nevada kids under the age of 18 will become daily smokers this year, and an estimated 41,000 healthy kids in Nevada will die prematurely from smoking.

While Nevada has made considerable progress in curbing tobacco use, 370,000 adults in Nevada still smoke (17 percent of all adults) and smoking is responsible for a staggering $1.1 billion in preventable medical care costs each year.

In the current budget year, the State of Nevada will collect $213 million in revenue from the 1998 tobacco master settlement agreement and tobacco taxes. However, Nevada will spend a miserly $1 million on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit this year – a figure well below the annual funding level of $30 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement a comprehensive tobacco control program.

Let’s use World No Tobacco Day as a wake-up call to the global epidemic of tobacco use and the considerable unfinished work of tobacco control that remains in Nevada.

Additional information on World No Tobacco Day can be found at; information on the toll of tobacco in Nevada can be found at

John Packham, Ph.D. is director of health policy research at the University of Nevada School of Medicine and currently serves as the president of the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition.