Geneva, Switzerland, 23 May 2016: On the eve of the 69th World Health Assembly, at a special event convened last night by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the global cancer and non-communicable disease (NCD) community have welcomed a milestone announcement from AXA Group, who will divest their tobacco industry assets, currently valued at 1.8 billion Euros.
Tobacco consumption is the major cause of NCDs. Today, tobacco kills 6 million people per year, a figure that is expected to rise to 8 million by 2030.
In the fight against preventable cancers, tobacco control remains an area that governments, civil society and the private sector must come together to tackle effectively. Collaboration is key. And in particular addressing the financial power of the tobacco industry has been a fundamental missing piece in tobacco control efforts.
Responding to this need, Tobacco Free Portfolios has been instrumental in initiating dialogue with the finance industry. They are working to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, pension fund investment in tobacco. Founded in Australia by Dr Bronwyn King, their efforts have so far been integral to the decision of over 36 Australian funds to divest tobacco stocks, to the value of almost 2 billion Australian dollars (1.2 billion Euros). This has now expanded internationally to become a UICC sponsored initiative as the Global Task Force for Tobacco Free Portfolios, chaired by HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan.
"I am thrilled that one of the world's leading financial institutions is standing side by side with the health sector to address the profound global problem of tobacco. As we move forwards together, health professionals, governments and finance leaders, we will create change. We will protect the next generation. We will work together until the tobacco epidemic is put to an end”, said Bronwyn King, CEO and Founder of Tobacco Free Portfolios.
Cary Adams, CEO of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) added: “UICC and its partners across the non-communicable disease community have worked diligently over the last few years to engage all parts of society in recognising the disastrous social and economic effects the tobacco industry wreaks on us all. We need companies like AXA to signal that investing in an industry which kills its customers is simply the wrong thing to do; and this announcement to divest 1.8 billion euros is a milestone step in the right direction. Tobacco Free Portfolios, led by Dr Bronwyn King, will continue to encourage other companies to follow AXA’s outstanding lead.”
Unless urgent action is taken to reverse the current trend, tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide by the end of the 21st century. Its cost, already estimated at 2.1 trillion euros per year, is a key inhibitor of social and economic development, given that the highest burden is seen in low- and middle-income countries.
The incidence of NCDs, including cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory illnesses, is sharply rising and they are currently responsible for 68% of all deaths worldwide. For cancer alone, unhealthy lifestyle choices contribute to nearly 50% of all cases.
“We strongly believe in the positive role insurance can play in society, and that insurers are part of the solution when it comes to health prevention to protect our clients. Hence, it makes no sense for us to continue our investments within the tobacco industry. With this divestment from tobacco, we are doing our share to support the efforts of governments around the world. This decision has a cost for us, but the case for divestment is clear: the human cost of tobacco is tragic; its economic cost is huge. As a major investor and a leading health insurer, the AXA Group wants to be part of the solution, and our hope is that others in our industry will do the same,” said Thomas Buberl, Deputy CEO and incoming CEO of AXA.
UICC and Tobacco Free Portfolios welcomes AXA’s commitment to:
- Sell its equity holdings in tobacco companies immediately, the current estimated value of which is 184 million euros,
- Stop all new investments in tobacco industry corporate bonds and run off its existing tobacco industry bond holdings, currently valued at just under 1.6 billion euros.