Tobacco Capital Drop, Smoking Rates

The Victorian government is investing more than $100 million in tobacco industries despite efforts to reduce smoking tobacco rates among inhabitants. The state government’s investment management organisation, the Victorian Funds Management Corporation, says of its investment assets, worth $37.9 billion, that 0.3 percent is placed in the tobacco company. This brings its tobacco investment to almost $117 million — approximately four times the New South Wales government’s allocation of $30 million. The VFMC manages investments for public sector organisations including insurers and superannuation funds.

Clients include the Department of Health, the Transport Accident Commission, Victorian Managed Insurance Authority, WorkSafe, the Royal Kids’ Hospital and the University of Melbourne. Doctors and health groups declared the investment was outrageous and hypocritical when governments were trying to lessen the damage tobacco products caused to people’s health. The executive director of Quit Victoria, Fiona Sharkie, called for the government to abandon its investment because it undermined Australia’s smoking control regulations including plain packs. “It’s really in conflict with the governments’ health purposes. Tobacco has been on the health agenda for the federal and state governments for years, so on the one hand they’re argued that we’re investing in tobacco control but on the other hand they’re saying we’re investing in the companies,” she reported.

The chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health Australia, Anne Jones, said if the VFMC abandoned investments in cluster munitions, it should pull its money out of cigarette manufacturers. “Cluster bombs injure and kill almost 17,000 people a year and tobacco kills just under 6 million people a year worldwide,” she added. Ms Jones said deaths caused by tobacco products were predicted to reach 10 million by 2025, with most of the deaths in poor and middle-income earning countries. “It’s shocking These are countries we are sending AusAID to to reduce tobacco diseases,” she said. Dr Bronwyn King, a radiation oncologist at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre who successfully lobbied a superannuation company to drop its investments in cigs this year, also called for the Victorian government to follow suit. “As a cancer doctor, every single day I see the devastating effects tobacco has on individuals and their families,” she concluded.

While the NSW government committed to reviewing its investment in cigarettes companies this week, a spokeswoman for Victorian Treasurer Kim Wells would not comment on the matter except to explained that the VFMC was required to invest in accordance with its commercial objectives. “Under legislation, the Treasurer cannot direct the VFMC in relation to an investment new decision,” she said.