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,
A new article on insurance company holdings, published in
New England Journal of
Medicine, shows that U.S., Canadian and U.K.-based
insurance firms hold at least $4.4 billion of investments in
companies whose subsidiaries manufacture cigarettes,
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
“Despite calls upon the insurance industry
to get out of the tobacco business by physicians and
others, insurers continue to put their profits above
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.”
“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 -
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.
“Insurance industry investments in tobacco,” 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
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