Marin pension trustees urged to dump big tobacco investment [The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.]By Nels Johnson, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Dec. 12--The head of Marin's tobacco-related disease control program urged county pension trustees to bail out of the cigarette business, calling the issue a matter of life or death that is costing the county millions of dollars.
"I know you're trying to make money, but we have to talk about the costs right now that are associated with tobacco," said Bob Curry, tobacco program coordinator in the county Department of Health and Human Services.
The county pension fund has a $7.5 million investment in the Imperial Tobacco Group, a British company that ranks as the world's fourth-largest cigarette company and its biggest producer of cigars, fine-cut tobacco and tobacco rolling papers. The company's stock, fueled by 51 factories across the world that produce more than 320 million cigarettes each year, has quadrupled over the past decade.
Curry called it a poor investment that costs plenty.
He said that aside from triggering disease and death, state studies indicate tobacco's per-capita health and related costs in Marin County total $62 million "each and every year."
"For us to be investing in an industry that costs us a tremendous amount of money is not a wise thing to do," he said. "We don't want any more money going to an industry that kills."
Curry added that tobacco activists plan a concerted campaign to get pension trustees to dump the investment, but he did not elaborate. Joan Brown, retired head of the Civic Center volunteers
program, urged trustees several months ago to abandon tobacco.
Trustees made no comment about the matter after Curry spoke at open time Wednesday.
Trustees authorize investments in hundreds of businesses involved in countless enterprises, including the tobacco, alcohol and nuclear weapons industries. Pension officials say their duty is prudent investing to generate healthy returns, rather than a healthy planet -- a philosophy that contrasts with Civic Center's "healthy communities" goal.
The pension fund's investment committee lists as its "core objective" the diversification of assets "so as to minimize the risk of loss and to maximize the rate of return, in accordance with the board's overall objective of promoting the best interests for Marin County Employees Retirement Association, its members and their beneficiaries."
As of July 1, Imperial Tobacco Group ranked ninth on the list of the Marin pension fund's top 10 investments.
Contact Nels Johnson via email at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/nelsjohnsonnews
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