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Tobacco companies would never win any awards for corporate social responsibility

Tobacco companies would never win any awards for corporate social responsibility

Tobacco companies would never win any awards for corporate social responsibility

Virtuous legislation, especially during difficult economic times, rarely gets a great deal of public gratitude.

The passing this week of an act that insists that the future selling of cigarettes in the country, can only be done in identical plain packaging may make habitual smokers feel further persecuted, but it has also driven tobacco companies into a fury, threatening the Government with awful legal consequences.

Tobacco companies would never win any awards for corporate social responsibility. They supply a product that directly kills, and, having spent decades using their dubious profits to directly deny science, it is an industry that continues to believe that it should be treated like any other. Except it isn't. Outside of the obvious negative health consequences it brings about, this industry goes to great lengths to seek new users of its products from people of the youngest age groups.

Its growth area is in selling more and more of its products to the poorest people in some of the least developed parts of the world.

But it's business. The aim is to maximise profit and guarantee return for investors.

Placing social or moral prohibitions on that is, for these companies, an unnecessary and unnatural constraint on trade.

Here's where the murky meets the grey. Among the investors who may suffer from this legislation being passed is the Irish state itself. Our National Pension Reserve Fund, by failing to direct fund managers it appoints, has in its portfolio investment, amongst others, British American Tobacco - the epitome of the tobacco industry.

The NPRF argues that it exists, like the tobacco industry, to maximise return, and like that industry it should not be constrained in doing so. This is wrong thinking for a number of reasons. The NPRF is already precluded from investing in armaments. There is no reason why this list can't be extended. Some of the most successful national pension funds, such as that in Norway, operate quite profitably under strong ethical investment principles.

Policy has to match practice. We shouldn't be allowing this moral ambivalence to exist.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator

Irish Independent