Healthcare Industry Is Addicted to Tobacco 

CVS, United Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, All Invest Against Their Mission; As You Sow Offers The Online Tool Tobacco Free Funds

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Healthcare Employees Are Investing Retirement Funds In Tobacco Producers

BERKELEY, CA—OCT. 28, 2020—As You Sow today released its “Smoke & Mirrors: Healthcare Companies Are Addicted to Tobacco” report showing the majority of retirement funds, including those offered by healthcare companies, contain tobacco investments. Tobacco kills more than 8 million a year globally and is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. and around the world.

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“Smoke and Mirrors” uncovers a number of major findings about the prevalence of tobacco in retirement plans. Notably, CVS Health, Abbott Laboratories, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson all have investments in tobacco producers and tobacco-promoting entertainment studios exposing a deep contradiction between healthcare companies’ missions and their investment practices. One burning example is CVS Health: it stopped retailing cigarettes in 2014 and rebuilt their brand as a health company around this action, yet CVS employees are investing their retirement funds in tobacco producers and tobacco promoting companies.

“Companies with big tobacco in their retirement plans are forcing their employees to profit from an industry that thrives on addiction and death,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “It’s time for these companies to provide full transparency of tobacco investments so their employees can choose options that align with their values.”

“Smoke & Mirrors” also shows that investments in the tobacco industry are widespread and extends beyond healthcare company retirement plans. When assessing the 100 mutual funds most commonly offered in workplace  retirement plans , 55% invest in tobacco producers and 75% invest in tobacco promoters.

Onscreen Smokingleads To Becoming A Tobacco User

This deadly industry is also promoted by major entertainment studios and online streaming companies. After reviewing decades of research evidence, including entertainment industry collaboration with tobacco companies, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded in 2012 that exposure to onscreen smoking causes young people to become tobacco users. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that onscreen smoking would recruit more than 6 million new young U.S. smokers in a generation, of whom 2 million would die from tobacco-related diseases. Despite what state attorneys general have called a “colossal, preventable tragedy,” major media companies have not made tobacco content a factor in their content ratings, nor taken other steps recommended to protect children and empower parents.

“Media companies still pushing tobacco to young audiences in thousands of films and hundreds of new streaming series face risks to their brands, regulatory risks worldwide and, potentially, ruinous liability,” said Jono Polansky, an advisor to University of California, San Francisco, Smokefree Movies’ tobacco program. “The risk to families denied any warning of this physically toxic content is literally life-and-death.”

Strong anti-tobacco policies, including responsible investment practices, are more important than ever to protect our community and youth. In recent years, millions of middle and high school students have begun vaping. Onscreen exposure to tobacco imagery promotes vaping. Smoking and vaping dramatically increase the risk from COVID-19, among teens and young adults.

“This report reveals an opportunity for CEOs to genuinely align business with a sustainable future,” said Dr. Bronwyn King, CEO of Tobacco Free Portfolios. “I’m yet to meet a CEO who feels good when they discover their company has pensions investing in Big Tobacco. The good news is there’s a growing global movement of large mainstream investors who have implemented blanket tobacco-free exclusions and more than US $11 trillion is now behind the Tobacco-Free Finance Pledge.”

Tobacco Free Funds

To support investors and retirement plan participants to find tobacco-free options, As You Sow offers the online tool Tobacco Free Funds. By using Tobacco Free Funds, anyone invested in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund is able to harness their economic power to invest with their values and stop their support of tobacco manufacturers and entertainment companies that promote tobacco.

Beyond tobacco, there are also many other industries, from fossil fuels to weapons, that can be in your investments and retirement plan that may not align with your values.

Behar agrees: “Tobacco is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s hiding inside retirement plans that is out of alignment with investor's values. Almost every 401(k) plan has big oil, fossil fired utilities, companies burning down the rainforest, cluster munitions, the prison industrial complex, and companies that score a F on gender equality. Every investor deserves the right to make sure that their hard earned dollars are invested in companies creating a safe, just, and sustainable future.”

As You Sow’s suite of Invest Your Values online educational tools include Tobacco Free Funds, Fossil Free Funds, Gender Equality Funds, Deforestation Free Funds, Prison Free Funds, Weapon Free Funds, and Gun Free Funds.


As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. As You Sow does not provide investment, financial planning, legal, or tax advice. Click here to use As You Sow’s shareholder resolution tracker. Click here for our legal disclaimer.