Ipswich: ‘Hypocrisy’ claims over Suffolk County Council’s £30m stake in tobacco industry

Suffolk County Council headquarters - Endeavour House

Suffolk County Council headquarters - Endeavour House - Credit: Archant

Suffolk County Council has been accused of hypocrisy after an investigation revealed funds it has invested in the tobacco industry have doubled to more than £30million – despite the authority’s new responsibility for promoting public health.

Figures, released under Freedom of Information laws, showed the authority had £32.4m invested in tobacco companies in June. In 2008/09, it was £15.8m.

The figures showed the authority had a total of £17.03m invested in British American Tobacco last month, with £8.55m in Imperial Tobacco Group, £3.64m in Japan Tobacco and £3.18m in Altria Group.

A report by Fair Pensions and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in January last year criticised tobacco investment, labelling it “simplistic” and arguing it should no longer be viewed as “low-risk, high-profit investments”.

John Middleton, vice-president for policy at the Faculty of Public Health, said: “We are fighting big tobacco with one hand tied behind our back if at the same time we are willing to take their money, allegedly because it the best investment returns for our money.”

“Investing in the deadly tobacco industry will mean many of Suffolk County Council’s members who are smokers will not live to collect their pensions and many of the children of their members will be condemned to picking up the deadly habit.

“We are jeopardising the lives of our children while seeking to protect our pensions. It’s hypocritical and it’s an untenable position to be in.”

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Smoking accounts for 1,000 deaths every year in Suffolk, while smoking-related illnesses costs the county £13m annually.

Peter Bellfield, Suffolk Pension Fund committee chairman, said: “One of the requirements placed on the Suffolk Pension Fund is to make a return on investment to ensure that we have the funds to meet future pension liabilities.

“We do acknowledge the issues around public health.

“However, ultimately, restricting choice for the fund managers limits their abilities to do their jobs. Suffolk’s approach is entirely in line with many other areas around the UK.”

A Suffolk County Council spokesman added: “The county council works hard to help people take responsibility for their own health, not taking up smoking at all or quitting if they already smoke.

“But at the same time, pensions managers have a responsibility to ensure the fund makes the best return on investment.”