Health, life insurers hold billions in tobacco stocks

Jun 03, 2009

More than a decade after Harvard researchers first revealed that life and health insurance companies were major investors in tobacco stocks - prompting calls upon them to divest - the insurance industry has yet to kick the habit, they say.

A new article on insurance company holdings, published in today's , shows that U.S., Canadian and U.K.-based insurance firms hold at least $4.4 billion of investments in companies whose subsidiaries manufacture , cigars, chewing tobacco and related products.

Tobacco products currently contribute to the deaths of 5.4 million people worldwide annually, according to the World Health Organization. Tobacco use is a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack, lung disease and cancer.

"Despite calls upon the insurance industry to get out of the tobacco business by physicians and others, insurers continue to put their profits above people's health," said Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, the lead author of the article. "It's clear their top priority is making money, not safeguarding people's well-being."

To illustrate their point, Boyd and his colleagues point to Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial Inc., which sells life insurance and long-term disability coverage. With total tobacco holdings of $264.3 million, Prudential Financial is a major investor in three tobacco firms, including Reynolds American, whose subsidiary R.J. Reynolds manufactures Camel and Pall Mall cigarettes, and Philip Morris, maker of the popular Marlboro brand.

Sun Life Financial Inc., based in Toronto, sells life, health, disability and long-term care insurance. It also owns slightly over $1 billion in stock in two tobacco companies, including $890 million in Philip Morris.

London-based Prudential Plc, which offers health, disability, and long-term care insurance, has holdings of $1.38 billion in two tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco, which markets Kent and Lucky Strike cigarettes.

The researchers also itemize the substantial tobacco holdings of Northwestern Mutual of Milwaukee and Massachusetts Mutual Life of Springfield, Mass., along with those of Standard Life Plc, a health and life insurer based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Boyd and his co-authors, Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, culled their data from Osiris, a proprietary database of industrial, banking and insurance companies. Osiris draws upon Securities and Exchange Commission filings and news reports from providers like Dow Jones and Reuters.

"Although investing in tobacco while selling life or health insurance may seem self-defeating," the authors write, "insurance firms have figured out ways to profit from both. Insurers exclude smokers from coverage or, more commonly, charge them higher premiums. Insurers profit - and smokers lose - twice over."

The same researchers, all of whom are affiliated with Physicians for a National Health Program, first published data about the "tobacco-insurance company connection" in 1995 in the medical journal Lancet. They say that because private, for-profit insurers have repeatedly put their own financial gain over the public's health, readers in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom should be wary about insurance firms' participation in care.

They add, "These data raise a red flag about the prospects of opening up vast new markets for private insurers at public expense, as has happened in our state of Massachusetts, whose recent health care reform is often cited as a model for national reform."

More information: " industry investments in ," J. Wesley Boyd, M.D., Ph.D.; David U. Himmelstein, M.D; Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H. New England Journal of Medicine, June 4, 2009.

Source: Physicians for a National Health Program

Explore further: Misreporting diet information could impact nutrition recommendations for Hispanics

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

1 in 7 organ donors concerned about life and health insurance

Jul 02, 2007

According to a new review in American Journal of Transplantation, people who donate their kidney or part of their liver to help someone else may themselves encounter difficulty with life and health insurance, despite insurance ...

Recommended for you

Seven ways to feel full without overeating

1 hour ago

Not feeling full after or between meals can result in overeating. In the October issue of Food Technology magazine published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), contributing editor Linda Milo Ohr ...

Measures to avoid hospital readmission often don't work

2 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—Health care interventions designed to keep patients from having to be readmitted to the hospital are proving unsuccessful, a researcher from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and a colleague ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

CarolAST
not rated yet Jun 15, 2009
That's how they control the tobacco companies to make them throw the fight.

The anti-smoking conspiracy began over a century ago. Skull & Bones members ring-led the creation of the American Tobacco Trust, to gather all the companies under anti-smoker control. But they knew that they couldn't just take over the tobacco companies and shut them down, because others would simply enter the field. So, they also created and built up enemies to persecute tobacco, particlarly the American Cancer Society, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the American Heart Association, and used these as proxies to create and control the federal health establishment (the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute, et al.) to manufacture fraudulent pseudo-science to deceive the public at taxpayer expense. The anti-smoker-controlled tobacco companies merely put up a phony pretense of fighting the anti-smoker-controlled "health" lobbies, and purposely throw lawsuits (that is, to those brought by the "right" plaintiffs) in order to financially intimidate potential entrants away from the tobacco industry.

Philip Morris/Altria is a particular flagrant example of conspiratorial control. The anti-smokers used it to scoop up the remaining companies that hadn't been sucked into the Tobacco Trust, and they built it up to serve as the lead Judas Goat to betray the rest. J. Russell Forgan, who later wrote the act creating the Central Intelligence Agency, began investing Marshall Field 3d's money in the tobacco industy in the late 1920s, and he led the financing of Philip Morris's expansion from the 1940s to 1960s, when he specifically recruited insitutional investors. And, from 1960 to 1981, the stepson of the head of the American Cancer Society was on its board of directors!

http://www.smoker...ower.htm