Surrey

Surrey council accused of hypocrisy over tobacco investments

A woman smoking
Image caption Tobacco companies tend to be "good performers" and have been doing well in emerging markets

Surrey County Council has been accused of hypocrisy after running stop smoking campaigns while investing in tobacco companies.

A Surrey Mirror investigation found the Conservative-controlled council owned £15m of shares in five tobacco firms as part of its pension fund portfolio.

The council said its pension focused on achieving maximum returns.

But Green Party councillor Jonathan Essex called for it to take its money out of the industry.

'Unethical'

A Freedom of Information request by Surrey Mirror newspaper revealed the council owned shares in tobacco companies including British American Tobacco.

Earlier this year, the council awarded a contract for a new stop smoking service that will target deprived communities, pregnant women and young people.

And Helyn Clack, Conservative council cabinet member for wellbeing and health, has welcomed the ban on smoking in cars carrying children.

Mr Essex said it was hypocritical for the council to invest in the tobacco industry.

He called for it to "show some leadership and take our money out of an industry that does so much harm and costs the NHS so much".

Labour councillor Robert Evans said he would be asking questions about "who decided this, when it was decided and why".

'Dangerous policy'

The council said it was fully committed to reducing the numbers of smokers in Surrey.

"Our pension investments are completely separate and are managed independently with a focus of achieving a maximum return," it said in a statement.

Lisa Stonestreet, of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, warned: "Returns at all costs is a dangerous policy.

"Over the long term, tobacco companies do not provide significantly higher returns than other companies."

She said she was concerned the council was suggesting that investment is a "separate bubble that exists outside of wider considerations".

"That just isn't true," she said.

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