Alberta sells off tobacco stock

Though a Crown corporation selling off tobacco stock is being called an unprecedented move, the province’s plans to sue the tobacco industry remain unclear.

Cigarette smoking

Cigarette smoking

The Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo) has sold $17.5 million in directly managed tobacco stock held by public sector pension funds and the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, said AIMCo CEO Leo de Bever.

The decision to sell the stocks was initiated by the province, he said.

One year ago, when Premier Alison Redford was justice minister, she announced plans for the province to sue Big Tobacco to recover health care costs.

On Friday, Alberta Justice spokesman David Dear said while that’s still the plan, a lawsuit launch date has still not been picked.

“It’s too early to say,” said Dear.

“The next step is to proclaim Alberta’s Crown’s Right of Recovery Act — that will really set up all the steps that will follow.

“Obviously it’s an important issue and we’ll take the time we need to get it right.”

Dear said the lawsuit will seek to recoup health costs that resulted from the side-effects of the tobacco industry.

Cynthia Callard, executive director of the policy group Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said to the best of her knowledge, Alberta is the first province in Canada to dump these sorts of investments in the tobacco industry.

She said though Alberta’s stocks were modest compared to others — the Canada and Quebec pension plans each have more than $200 million invested and there is another $300-plus-million in BC — the move sets a good example.

“This step of Alberta is a major precedent,” she said.

Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said he’s also pleased by the province initiating the stock sell-off.

“It’s completely contradictory for the Alberta government to sue the tobacco industry on one hand and profit from it on the other,” he said.

“We think it’s a good move — it draws a clear line between government and the tobacco industry.”

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