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The Financial Sector Needs To Align With Global Anti-Tobacco Efforts

Financial organisations shifted at least US $10 billion away from tobacco investments in the past two years alone

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Tobacco-related deaths and health problems have assumed epic proportions globally. Tobacco use is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today. In the past year alone, an estimated 7 million people have died worldwide due to tobacco use.

What’s even more alarming is the fact that more than 80% of the world’s smokers live in low and middle-income countries - countries with large youth populations, less access to education, less awareness about the dangers of smoking and weaker tobacco control regulations, including low taxes.

In India especially, tobacco addiction is a profound health challenge. According to some estimates, there are 27.5 crore tobacco users in the country and every third Indian adult uses some form of tobacco. About 10 lakh Indians die from tobacco-related diseases each year and nearly half of cancer cases in India are attributable to tobacco.

While the global healthcare sector, governments and non-government organizations are all fighting to end the ‘Great Global Tobacco Epidemic’, the tobacco industry continues to flourish.

A fact that is surprising to many is that through our financial investments, which include pension schemes, Sovereign Wealth funds, insurance and banking, most of us are unwittingly financing this industry and, thus indirectly contributing to the epidemic. The entire global financial sector is tangled up with tobacco companies. In 2018, lending money to tobacco companies, investing in tobacco companies and striving to profit from tobacco companies is the norm amongst the vast majority of financial institutions.

Addressing financial support of tobacco companies is a crucial element in global efforts to control tobacco. We urge finance leaders to reconsider tobacco and consider adopting a framework that clearly articulates why it is reasonable to take a strong position against tobacco companies. Investment in tobacco simply cannot be done ‘responsibly’ or ‘sustainably’.

The good news is that we are already witnessing more and more instances of collaboration between the health and finance sectors across the globe on the issue of tobacco. A worldwide initiative by Tobacco Free Portfolios – a not for profit organisation - has resulted in leading financial organisations shifting at least US $10 billion away from tobacco investments in the past two years alone.

Tobacco Free Portfolios have been delighted to work with many of the world’s most recognised financial institutions including global insurance giant AXA, BNP Paribas – the largest European Bank, ABP - the largest European pension fund and more than 40 Australian pension funds that control a total of approximately AU $1 Trillion. All are now proudly tobacco-free. The change to tobacco-free finance can be achieved.

Yet, with much of the finance sector still invested in tobacco, there is still great progress to be made. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Dr Bronwyn King

Dr. Bronwyn King is a Radiation Oncologist and Founder and CEO of Tobacco Free Portfolios, a Not-For-Profit organisation that collaborates with the finance sector to encourage tobacco-free investments. Dr. Bronwyn has successfully persuaded 35 Australian superannuation funds, as Australians call their private pension funds, controlling nearly half the total funds under management to shun tobacco.

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