Thanks @josh7 for sharing your views too
My post was less about the personal freedom of smokers to choose to smoke (and the right of any individual, organisation or government to impose their point of view on that choice) and more that I feel (just my opinion) that when evaluating companies for investment we shouldn’t base our decision purely on profits / revenue / stock performance (historical, current and future) and also look at the various bottom lines beyond that. At best is a company positively contributing to the (health / financial / emotional / security etc) wellbeing of individuals, communities and the environment? Or at worst, is it not negatively impacting it? According to the World Health Organisation "Every year, more than 8 million people die from tobacco use. […] Tobacco can also be deadly for non-smokers. Second-hand smoke exposure has also been implicated in adverse health outcomes, causing 1.2 million deaths annually. Nearly half of all children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and 65 000 children die each year due to illnesses related to second-hand smoke. Smoking while pregnant can lead to several life-long health conditions for babies." https://www.who.int/health-topics/tobacco#tab=tab_1 Reading that from the United Nations agency responsible for international public health, to me puts the tobacco industry firmly on the side of negatively impacting individual and community wellbeing.
What I missed out from the quote above is this: “Most tobacco-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, which are often targets of intensive tobacco industry interference and marketing.” while the CDC (leading national public health institute in the US) say “Cigarette smoking disproportionately affects the health of people with low SES (socio-economic status). Lower income cigarette smokers suffer more from diseases caused by smoking than do smokers with higher incomes.” https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/disparities/low-ses/index.htm As a community of investors, isn’t it our responsibility to at best redress (or at worst not contribute to reinforcing) societal imbalances caused by poverty?
If IMB were serious about helping people stop tobacco use, rather than also profiting from less harmful alternatives, wouldn’t they just stop selling cigarettes and other nicotine containing substances? Couldn’t they fund programs that actively increase health, decrease stress, improve social connections etc like grass-roots sports programs or healthy eating initiatives?
You make a good point about there being tools to help people stop smoking. Yes, there are tools, services and organizations to help people do that. In my view, they’re seriously underfunded compared to what is spent on helping people quit (not to mention the fact that they wouldn’t be needed at all, if tobacco products weren’t available on the market). Full disclosure, I couldn’t find great stats on this, but in 2016 (the last year for which stats seem to be available) “cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies spent $9.5 billion on advertising and promotional expenses in the United States alone.” https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/marketing/index.htm That’s an unbelievable amount, not to mention the millions spend on lobbying companies and individuals to influence governmental policy around the world.
Like you (as it sounds like), I believe people should have the right to live, think and love as they want (as long as it doesn’t harm others). I do think though that as investors, we have a responsibility to evaluate companies carefully in terms of what they add to society and what they take away. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s good. Likewise, just because we can make money by investing in a company or sector, doesn’t mean we should.