Responsible investors take stand against vaping

19th Nov. 2021

Andy Wilkinson​ believes that if you think smoking is an addictive poison, then you should feel the same about vaping.

This article originally featured on Stuff and was written by Daniel Smith. 

Andy Wilkinson​ believes that if you think smoking is an addictive poison, then you should feel the same about vaping.

The Wellington-based 31-year-old tech consultant was a smoker before he used vaping to quit his habit.

But then he found vaping even harder to give up and has seen the e-cigarette habit form in people much younger.

“I think the health risks in vaping are seriously understated. And what is worse is it is targeted to teenagers. I personally know several teenagers, who use high nicotine vape liquids. It tastes like candy floss but is strong enough to make your head spin,” Wilkinson​ said.

Wilkinson’s​ personal experience convinced him to make sure his KiwiSaver investments had no investment in any tobacco products. There is $33 million invested in tobacco companies via KiwiSaver.

In general investment funds that figure is slightly higher at $58 million.

But those numbers could soon drop as the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) has added vaping products to the exclusion lists for its members.

Simon O’Connor​, chief executive of the RIAA, said the time was right for vaping to join nuclear weapons, and cluster munitions on its exclusion list.

“The scale has tipped that we are seeing more harm coming from these devices than good. There is a stronger regulatory environment being imposed on them. The World Health Organisation has recommended the broadening of considerations of harm in vaping devices, and the Australian pharmaceutical regulator recently banned the sale of vaping devices without medical prescription,” O’Connor​ said.

There are 72 KiwiSaver and managed funds in New Zealand that are signatories to the RIAA exclusions.

While O’Connor​ predicted the vaping exclusion would not cause changes in the Australasian markets, fund managers might have to divest from certain companies in their global allocations.

RIAA members will have 12 months to divest from vaping technology if they wish to remain approved by the organisation.

Data shows that many Kiwi investors don’t want anything to do with tobacco products.

A Mindful Money survey showed 78 per cent of New Zealanders did not want their money in companies that produce tobacco products.

Barry Coates​, chief executive of Mindful Money, said arguing about the difference between vapes and cigarettes was disingenuous, because most of the major tobacco companies produced both.

“It’s hard to disentangle vapes from tobacco. The biggest vape producer in the US is owned by Phillip Morris who of course produce a range of tobacco products. Very often it is the same companies that do both,” Coates​ said.

“This is not the kind of thing that most New Zealanders want to invest their money in,” Coates​ said.

Wilkinson​ is happy that fund managers in the big end of town are finally on board with something he has known for some time.

“The fact that vaping is not as bad as smoking doesn’t mean it is harmless...If an investment fund is investing in vape companies they should not be able to call themselves a responsible fund,” Wilkinson​ said.