Kent health expert resigns over tobacco comments

A public health expert who spoke out against authorities investing in tobacco and then faced disciplinary action by her employer Kent County Council (KCC) has resigned.

Dr Marion Gibbon made the comments in a BBC Radio Kent interview last year.

She said she ended up feeling she could not do her job effectively at KCC.

KCC said she had given an unauthorised media interview and the matter was internal. The council invests £24m in tobacco out of its £3bn portfolio.

Dr Gibbon, who still believes councils should not invest in tobacco, said she received a warning about bringing the council into disrepute.

"It was really, really tough. They kept on prodding and acting in a manner that was very challenging for me and quite confrontational," she said.

"And I had decided that actually what was at stake here was far more than my employment with Kent County Council.

"It was the whole issue of public health professionals being allowed to speak out and say when things needed to be said so that people's health should be protected."

'Reputable companies'

KCC's deputy leader John Simmonds, cabinet member for finance, said: "Probably the four best-earning shares are tobacco, alcohol, minerals and oil and gas. We have had protests about all four at various stages - about, 'is it right you should be investing?'"

He said the council's tobacco investment was less than 1% of its pension fund.

People had objected to the council's investment in drink companies and oil and gas firms involved in fracking, he added.

"At the end of the day we'll end up with virtually nothing that we can invest in," he said. "These are reputable companies. They are not doing anything at all that is illegal."

He said the priority for the pension fund was to generate the best return.

The council spent an annual £4.5m on anti-smoking measures, and also funded trading standards operations to prevent underage smoking, he added.

In a further statement on how Dr Gibbon's case had been handled, KCC said: "Any unauthorised statements to the media are a breach of the council's employment policies.

"This was an internal matter between KCC and a member of staff and in our opinion these issues should not be discussed through the media."

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