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Largest public pension system to sell all tobacco stocks

The nation’s largest public pension system is giving up tobacco.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System decided Monday to sell its last $550 million worth of tobacco-related investments nearly two decades after trading away the bulk of them.

In a 9-3 vote, the CalPERS investment committee disregarded the advice from its own financial advisers who recommended reversing a sell-off of tobacco stock that was approved in 2000, which has cost the system more than $3 billion in lost earnings.

At that time, CalPERS divested tobacco holdings managed by its in-house advisers, but it allowed outside managers to retain the investments they controlled.

Public health organizations overwhelmingly opposed a reinvestment, saying it would send the message that California supports a product that causes cancer and raises health care costs.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in de-normalizing tobacco, to get people to think that tobacco is not OK,” said Jim Knox, vice president of the American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm. “To have the largest pension program in the world to suddenly get back into tobacco in a big way sends the wrong message.”

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