Tyler Ward finds a certain irony in the fact that U of T, a training ground for future doctors, pharmacists, and nurses, holds more than $10 million in tobacco stock.
“U of T as an institution is supposed to be promoting healthy lifestyles,” said the third-year poli-sci student, who heads E-BUTT, a campus tobacco control group. The group wants the university to butt out of its tobacco investments.
According to Ward: “There is no rational explanation for investing in tobacco.” Except, he said, to generate a profit.
As of the end of 2005, U of T had holdings worth $10.5 million in three major tobacco companies, makers of some of the best-known cigarette brands, such as Camel, Marlboro, and Rothmans.
In a petition submitted to U of T President David Naylor last month, E-BUTT asked that the university cut its investments in the industry, and make a policy amendment banning future investment in such morally questionable industries.
The E-BUTT report argued that the investments are contradictory to U of T’s investment policy, which accepts the Yale University concept of social injury as a criterion for basing initiatives. It lists 28 other North American universities, including the likes of Brown University, U Penn, Harvard and Stanford, that have divested their tobacco industry stock.
“It is unacceptable that the University of Toronto would attempt to profit from an industry that manufactures products that addict children and inflict unparalleled levels of harm at both an individual and a societal level, in Canada and globally,” said the report.
Matthew Glick from the U of T-based Responsible Investment Working Group, said that tobacco investments are unwise even from a financial perspective.
“The tobacco industry is one that faces a lot of litigation, and one whose political situation is liable to falter,” he explained. “So, besides being morally questionable, the investments are financially unstable.”
Glick’s group held a conference last Friday, aimed at reforming the University’s investment policies he calls “arcane and not structured in a way that is helpful for addressing the students’ concerns or possible dangers.” The conference was timed to coincide with the start of National Non-
Smoking Week, which runs from Jan. 21 to Jan. 27.
An advisory committee chaired by Catherine Riggall, VP of business affairs, has been formed to investigate the divestment. The group is still deliberating the issue and has not yet presented their findings.
Ward feels that the committee is dragging its feet. “The VP of business affairs toldme via email in Nov. 2006 her committee would finish their findings before Christmas,” he said. “Obviously that did not happen. She also told me in a meeting in Oct. 2006 that she thought Naylor should reach a decision around May 2007.”
Administration spokesperson Ruta Pocius denied that the advisory committee committed itself to any sort of timeline. “At this time the advisory committee is in the process of reviewing and finalizing its findings before it submits the recommendation [to President Naylor].”
The president will then decide on a course of action based on the committee’s findings, Pocius said. Riggall acknowledged E-BUTT’s petition in an email. “In addressing concerns about tobacco-related companies, we shall need to consider a range of issues,” she commented in the letter.
Riggall said the divestment committee must consider whether the university would be setting any adverse precedents by limiting investments in tobacco-related enterprises for social reasons, since tobacco is available in many forms.
The committee would also have to decide whether a potential ban on tobacco investments would extend to companies involved in any and all forms of tobacco products, she wrote, and what the percentage of a company’s income must be derived from tobacco products in order for it to be deemed a tobacco company.
Ward did not share Riggall’s nuanced view of the tobacco industry. “I find it disgusting that an industry is selling products that will kill 50 per cent of its users,” he said.
Yearly, an estimated 47,000 Canadians die from smoking-related complications. Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable deaths in the country, according to a Health Canada report from 2005, and second-hand smoke is the third-leading cause, killing 8,800 Canadians a year.