Students smoke out tobacco investments

Chico State University shouldn’t benefit from smoking, says a new campus group that hopes to convince the school’s auxiliary organizations to adopt an investment policy against owning stock in tobacco companies.

At the same time the group investigates whether millions of dollars in public funds are helping to support the “evil empire” of corporate tobacco, the campus community would be reminded of the negative health impacts of smoking.

“When you can talk about more than just health, you can really reach a lot of people,” said Sule Gordon, a campus organizer for the Campaign Against Transnational Tobacco who was in Chico last week to facilitate the start of the effort here. The tobacco-tax-funded nonprofit also runs the heavily sourced Web site.

Gordon said the campaign mobilizes students to use their schools’ investment power to challenge the global tobacco industry.

Chico students are already taking the lead and have named their group Students of Chico Against Transnational Tobacco (SCATT), said organizer Annie Sherman. The local branch of the American Lung Association has pledged its support.

Similar efforts at other universities in California have met with mixed results. CSU, Sacramento has agreed to start the divestment process, while Humboldt State for a year resisted even opening its foundations’ investments to public scrutiny. The University of California has agreed not to invest in tobacco companies.

Chico State’s University Foundation readily provided the News & Review with a list of the mutual funds in which its $18.4 million in investments are held. An initial check of those funds’ core holdings—managed by the nonprofit Common Fund—uncovered no apparent tobacco-related investments.

Richard Jackson, executive director of both the University Foundation and the University Research Foundation, said he would be glad to take the matter before the bodies’ boards, which he expects would be interested in taking up the ethical debate.

The group also seeks to learn the holdings of the Associated Students.

In the 1980s, Chico State was among the colleges where foundation boards opted to divest themselves of holdings in South Africa, out of concern for the racist practice of apartheid.

Among the many reported transgressions of the tobacco industry are: exploitation of workers (including children) in developing countries; marketing "ploys" aimed toward poorly educated potential smokers; racial and gender profiling; ecological destruction and animal testing.