Student contests U of T’s investment in tobacco stocks

E-BUTT petitions universities to divest their tobacco stocks

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Cigarettes and Money

Joyce Wang

WE HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MUCH MONEY AND CIGARETTES SINCE...THE LAST TIME WE SAW SOMEONE BUY CIGARETTES. Student Tyler Ward is trying to ensure U of T divests the $10 million it holds in tobacco stocks.

It took over three months for Tyler Ward to confirm his suspicions that the University of Toronto holds over $10 million in global tobacco company stocks.

Now Ward is encouraging U of T and other universities to divest 100 per cent of their tobacco and tobacco-related stocks and bonds and implement a policy specifically forbidding investment in such industries.

Last January, Ward and some friends formed a student group called Education-Bringing Youth Tobacco Truths.

“I’ve been passionate about tobacco [education] for many years, but I realized I couldn’t do this on my own,” said Ward, a third-year political science and ethics student at U of T.

Following U of T’s explicit policy on social and political issues with respect to the university’s investments, Ward and fellow members of E-BUTT circulated a petition to students, staff, faculty, alumni, and public health and tobacco control representatives.

The petition was prepared over five weeks and presented to U of T’s president David Naylor last March. Naylor appointed a six-member advisory committee to examine the issue.

Ward and E-BUTT’s executive presented a detailed report to the committee in December and held a press conference Tuesday to draw public attention to their concerns.

“Another group tried to accomplish the same goals back in 1990 and ’91, but those students graduated and nothing came of it,” Ward said. “We can’t let that happen this time.”

Ruta Pocius, director of issue management and media relations for U of T, said the university has approximately $10.5 million invested in companies including Japan Tobacco, Altria Group and Rothmans Inc.

She said Naylor’s advisory committee presents its findings to Naylor soon, who will subsequently turn it over to U of T’s governing council to make final decisions.

“Our next step, what we call ‘stage three,’ is circulating a second petition for President Naylor, this time signed not by students but only by politicians, tobacco control representatives and health officials,” Ward said.

“We will present this second petition to [President Naylor] at the end of March and we will also have it published in all of U of T’s student newspapers.”

Ward hopes to expand his initiative to other universities and already has friends looking for information on investments at Queen’s University, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of British Columbia.

“Tobacco companies have run the largest campaign of lies and deception on the planet,” Ward said. “I will keep working on this until my heart stops ticking. Our jobs are not finished until every university is divested.”

Ward said he hopes Naylor, a former medical doctor and cardiologist, will soon recognize these investments’ ethical problems.

Gitta Kulczycki, Western’s VP resources and operations, said information on almost all Western’s investments is available for bona fide requests as per section 2.14 of Western’s administrative policies and procedures. However, she said these requests take at least a week to grant.

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