Following revelations about KCC’s investments in the tobacco industry (1) and threats to discipline one of its senior public health managers for speaking out about this (2), Kent Green Party has attacked the County Council for its “morally indefensible” stance on smoking.
Green Party County Councillor Martin Whybrow said: “When KCC became responsible for promoting public health in the county in April 2013, one of the first things it did was to make tackling smoking a top priority (3). But, having declared war on smoking, the Council continued to fund this deadly business by investing over £18million of its pension fund in cigarette giant Imperial Tobacco!
“I believe it is morally indefensible for KCC to campaign to reduce smoking and smoking related deaths whilst simultaneously giving massive financial support to companies responsible for killing 2,390 people from Kent in the past year (4). This cannot be justified and I will be working to ensure that it stops.”
He went on to say: “I am extremely concerned about KCC’s threat to discipline Dr Marion Gibbon, a senior public health manager, for speaking out about the Council’s investment in tobacco. In my opinion, Dr Gibbon did the right thing and should not be punished. The Faculty of Public Health have affirmed Dr Gibbon’s professional right to speak out and have rightly condemned KCC for their outrageous efforts to gag and intimidate her”(5).
“I will be writing to Professor John Ashton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, to seek his guidance on the ethical position of public health organisations investing in the tobacco industry (6). This is a subject which has major national implications now that local authorities have taken on responsibilities for public health following the Government’s abolition of the Primary Health Care Trusts earlier this year.”
FURTHER INFORMATION: Ian Driver, County Press Officer, Kent Green Party: Tel: 07866 588766, or Councillor Martin Whybrow on 07787 124794
Promoted by Stuart Jeffery for Kent Green Party, 82 Buckland Road, Maidstone ME16 0SD
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(1) A Green Party Freedom of Information request reveals that the KCC Pension Fund has invested £18,302,329 in Imperial Tobacco.
(2) See http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/smoking-interview-6518/
(3) See Kent County Council Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy
(4) See Kent Health Profile 2013
(5) Statement of the Faculty of Public Health
The Faculty of Public Health today (25 September) reaffirmed its support for public health professionals who need to speak out about matters that affect the protection of the public’s health.
Professor John Ashton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “It has long been FPH’s position that councils should not invest pension funds in tobacco companies. Tobacco is the only legal substance which kills half its customers when it used as intended. Councils have other industries they can invest in, and they cannot abdicate responsibility for what happens to public funds. Councils are responsible for the decisions that pension fund managers make on their behalf.
“We have seen with tragedies in hospitals and social services what happens when public sector workers are afraid to speak out about risks of harm. We need everyone in local authorities to work together so that public health professionals’ expertise is respected, particularly when it challenges the status quo. Otherwise, we risk creating a climate of fear that could do serious harm to people’s health.”
(6) Text of Councillor Whybrow’s letter to President of the Faculty of Public Health
Dear Professor Ashton
I am a Kent County Councillor and am writing to express my support for your statement of 25th September regarding the right of public health professionals to be able to speak out about issues of concern.
I believe that it was absolutely correct for the Kent County Council Public Health manager, Dr Gibbon, to comment about the unacceptable situation whereby KCC was investing heavily in tobacco companies whilst at the same time being charged with promoting the health of the public of Kent.
Last year 2,390 Kent residents died of smoking related illness. Last year Kent County Council’s Pension Fund invested £18.3 million in one of the companies responsible for many of these deaths.
Bearing in mind the fact that public health functions have, following the abolition of the Primary Care Trusts, now been transferred to local authorities I wondered if the Faculty of Public Health will now be contacting the Chief Executives and Political Leaders of these organisations to advise them of the necessity to demonstrate their commitment to public health by adopting a more ethical approach to their investments.
Councillor Martin Whybrow
Green Party, Kent County Council