Health groups breathe easy after tobacco ban

Dried Tobacco

Tobacco investment by the authorities and public sector will be prohibited in NSW, in a step welcomed by health groups.

The withdrawal of up to $224 million could be the single biggest strike to tobacco investment ever seen in Australia. However, it is necessary to gather support of the independent State Super to be completely enforced.

The chief executive of action on smoking and health Australia, Anne Jones, said that the NSW decision could result in other governments and super funds following the measure.

”It’s probable that billions of dollars are put in cigarette firms by Australian Governments and people through their super funds,” she said. “Take a lot of money off from an industry and they lose their strength and power to expand”.

The health director of the Heart Foundation, Julie Anne Mitchell, said that smoking was still the major cause of early death in NSW. “Measures like this help in struggle against cigarette firms,” she said.

The NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association also applauded the measure.

The chief executive of State Super, John Livanas, said that the organisation’s $158m investment in tobacco was just a fraction of its $35 billion portfolio. He said State Super was an independent trustee company that would make its own choice after getting a formal demand from authorities.

”The time it was received that note I will start the review process immediately,” he said.

The Greens MP John Kaye, who was against government tobacco investment, said if State Super did not approve the Greens would submit laws in February to impose it to.

“If Jillian Skinner and Mike Baird are serious about their commitment and remove tobacco out of the state they will accept our laws,” he said.

The NSW Treasurer, Mike Baird, said the authorities would instantly begin the procedure of eliminating tobacco investments from the portfolio of the NSW Treasury Corporation and other public sector firms.

“The O’Farrell Government is leading the way in tobacco control actions and it’s completely appropriate for us to divest the State of all tobacco investments and to prohibit them going forward,” he said.

In November, Fairfax Media unveiled the treasury corporation had almost $29m not directly invested by fund managers in cigarette firms, data since revised to $27m because of changes in the market. Mr Baird said WorkCover as well had around $39m invested.

The Federal Government’s Future Fund, at the moment invests about $210m in cigarette firms and is examining its policies.

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