NEW YORK—New York City Council Member Eric Gioia called for New York City to divest the shares invested in the tobacco company Phillip Morris/Altria on May 10. New York City currently has over 6 million shares worth $103 million invested by four of the five pension boards.
Gioia said investing in tobacco companies while the city is spending so much on preventing New Yorkers from smoking was counterproductive and hypocritical. NYC has been leading in smoking prevention with banning smoking in bars and restaurants in 2003 and aggressive public service campaigns. Since the ban, adults who smoke have fallen from 21.5 percent to 15.8 percent (350,000).
“New York City should not be investing a dime in big tobacco,” he said. “Big Tobacco’s does one thing—kill people. New York City should pull out of these stocks and send a message that we’re serious about helping people quit smoking, and creating a healthier New York.”
In 2008, the Mayo Clinic found in a study that Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies had been conducting research on polonium, a radioactive element, found in cigarettes, and keeping the findings hidden from consumers.
NYC is invested in an index fund that includes Phillip Morris/Altria, but the city’s restrictions on tobacco stocks would allow divestment from the Phillip Morris/Altria fund.
Gioia says divesting from funds that include big tobacco companies like Phillip Morris/Altria would send a clear message that New York is serious about cutting back smoking as both a public health concern and a financial one. After NYC banned smoking, other large cities, such as Dublin, London, and Washington, D.C., followed suit.
“New York has spent millions fighting smoking,” he said. “To be investing tax dollars in Phillip Morris/Altria does not make sense and is counterproductive to our public health initiatives.”
In 1998, the city’s Employees’ Retirement System decided to freeze investment in big tobacco. The city has not, however, taken the step to sell its existing holdings, and Gioia has written a letter to New York’s pension boards about fully divesting from Phillip Morris/Altria.
Gioia believes the city will have completely pulled out from investments such as this over the next year.