Aartsen made his appeal last Wednesday during the ‘Make healthcare smoke-free’ conference organised by the KNMG federation of doctors. According to the UCMG manager, it is time that ABP takes responsibility. ‘Every year, twenty thousand people in the Netherlands die from smoking. They shouldn’t have to! Preventing these deaths should take priority over the profits from tobacco investments’, he says.
The Board of Directors wholeheartedly supports Aartsen in this matter, says RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker. ‘Unfortunately our position prevents us from really doing anything about the situation.’
The pension fund itself is not particularly impressed with Aartsen’s appeal, and says it has no plans to stop investing in tobacco. ‘It has come to our attention that our participants are troubled by this issue’, says ABP press officer Jos van Dijk. ‘But the investments have really good returns. We have assets totalling 380 billion, and we have to make a profit in order to be able to pay out adequate pensions. We try to act objectively within the given legislation, and tobacco is legal in the Netherlands.’
Forced to invest
ABP is the pension fund for government and educational staff. RUG and UMCG personnel also contribute to the ABP pension fund. They are required by law to do so. Because ABP in turn invests in the tobacco industry, civil servants are basically forced to invest in that industry as well, Aartsen claims.
At the conference, Aartsen also said he wants promote the improvement of treatments for people who want to quit smoking. Aartsen wants to make the UMCG grounds smoke-free before 2019.
The university itself is involved in an initiative to turn Groningen into the first smoke-free municipality in the Netherlands. The RUG is also part of the movement ‘On the road to a smoke-free generation’. As part of that, they instated a smoking ban near the entrances of all RUG buildings.