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Pension funds less tough on tobacco than insurers: survey

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Dutch insurers have much stronger exclusion policies on tobacco industry investments than the country’s pension funds, a survey has revealed.

The study, conducted by the Association of Investors in Sustainable Development (VBDO) and commissioned by the Heart Foundation found that an increasing number of pension funds were looking into the issue.

VBDO said 55 institutional investors took part in the survey, including 30 pension funds with combined assets of €800bn, and 11 insurers.

According to the VBDO, more than two-thirds of pension funds didn’t have a policy in place for tobacco investments, compared to 10% of insurers.

It suggested the difference was attributable to the fact that many insurers also sell healthcare policies and have adjusted their investment policies accordingly.

VBDO found that six pension funds had blacklisted investments in tobacco firms. They include the €185bn healthcare scheme PFZW, which ceased investing in cigarette manufacturers in 2013.

The occupational schemes for general practitioners (SPH) and medical consultants (SPMS) have also halted investing in tobacco.

The large metal schemes PMT and PME, when asked, indicated that they didn’t have a tobacco policy, although PME said it would introduce one soon.

The €22bn multi-sector pension fund PGB also said it would come up with a policy, following a survey suggesting that just 17% of its participants supported tobacco investments.

The €382bn civil service scheme ABP and the €54bn pension fund for the building sector (BpfBOUW) said they invested in tobacco companies “as the sale of cigarettes is still legal in the Netherlands”.

The €5bn pension fund PNO Media made clear that it had launched a survey to find out how its participants perceived tobacco investments.

According to VBDO, which didn’t publish the names of the investors participating in the survey, nine of the 11 interviewed insurers did not invest in tobacco.

VBDO and the Heart Foundation rejected the often cited point that smoking is a free choice, arguing that many smokers have difficulties to quit the habit because of their physical addiction.

They also contended that excluding tobacco investments doesn’t negatively affect returns.

In their opinion, tobacco investments don’t have a future “as governments increasingly curb smoking and the worldwide number of smokers has been decreasing for years”.

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