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Health Insurers Want You To Keep Smoking

June 16th, 2009 · No Comments

Health and life insurance companies in the U.S. and abroad have nearly $4.5 billion invested in tobacco stocks, according to Harvard doctors.

“It’s the combined taxidermist and veterinarian approach: either way you get your dog back,” says David Himmelstein, an internist at the Harvard Medical School and co-author of a letter published in the June 4th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The largest tobacco investor on the list, the 160-year old Prudential company with branches in the U.S. and the U.K., has more than $1.5 billion invested in tobacco stocks. The runner-up was Toronto-based Sun Life Financial, which apparently holds over $1 billion in Philip Morris (Altria) and other tobacco stocks. In total, seven companies that sell life, health, disability, or long-term care insurance, have major holdings in tobacco stock.

Why is it a big deal? “If you own a billion dollars [of tobacco stock], then you don’t want to see it go down,” says Himmelstein, “You are less likely to join anti-tobacco coalitions, endorse anti-tobacco legislation, basically, anything most health companies would want to participate in.”

This should get you upset! Is this who you want running our health care system?

More info on this news release: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=health-insurers-want-you-to-keep-sm-2009-06-03&sc=WR_20090609

Photo credit: Image of burning cigarette courtesy of SuperFantastic on Flickr

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