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Axa, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, announced today that it is selling all 1.8 billion euros (£1.3bn/USD2.0bn) of its tobacco industry shares, saying it made no sense to invest in a sector that killed more than six million people each year.

It said although the move would cost Axa in the short term, the business case is positive given the tragic human and economic costs of tobacco use. And as fewer claims for tobacco-related diseases are made, savings will be generated.

‘The Union applauds Axa for this bold and logical move,’ said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of the Department of Tobacco Control at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. ‘It is right that health insurers divest from these products that cause devastating sickness and premature death when used as intended. We hope other investors will now follow suit.’

‘It is encouraging that the finance sector is beginning to take account of the costs of tobacco usage. Governments should take their cue from Axa’s decision and dissolve their financial links with tobacco businesses. Investing in prevention rather than cure must be the future as we see the premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases skyrocket. Globally, 63 percent of early deaths are now caused by exposure to a range of preventable risk factors, of which tobacco use is the most deadly.’

Axa’s announcement coincides with the first day of the sixty-ninth World Health Assembly in Geneva. Taken together with recent high profile court case wins for the European Tobacco Products Directive and plain packaging in the UK, tobacco control is currently high on the global public health agenda.

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