The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday December 5th

Counterpoint: must they divest?

The medical world is a business, and tobacco stocks are just a legitimate part of that business.

A hospital is a business. Its profits are measured in lives. Any deviation from completely impartial, free-market business practices threatens the viability of a business and its potential to succeed.

In this case, it threatens the lives that the business supports.

By recommending that medical schools divest their portfolios of tobacco stocks, the American Medical Association promotes the unreasonable ethical standpoint that hospitals should financially back a product that has been proven harmful to the public health. These critics are negligent in their analysis of the extensive ramifications of such regulation.

The first issue to consider is profitability. Tobacco has suffered from both legal and social prosecution on the local and national scale and is therefore not as lucrative as it once was.

If an industry is determined to be profitable, or in the best interest of a diverse financial portfolio, then universities should have the freedom to decide whether or not to invest in it. Limiting investment is inherently detrimental to the overall productivity and success of any independent institution.

And while ethics should not be absent from business practices, it is simply too difficult to maintain the standard established by divestment in tobacco.

If tobacco is dropped, should medical institutions abandon all stock holdings in the fast food industry? Especially in light of the recent documentary "Fast Food Nation," burgers and fries have been damned as a major health concern of America in the upcoming years.

How about gun manufacturers, or even any industry that produces weapons? Certainly their products threaten health and safety in our nation.

It comes down to the fact that investing in tobacco is not investing in al-Qaida.

The companies are not the killers - the substance is. While it definitely affects the health of the American public, smoking is a choice, and a completely voluntary one.

Phillip Morris simply does not issue an edict telling all young people to start puffing away, and the company should not be blamed for producing a supply that meets the demand.

Visit the company's Web site: More pages are dedicated to discouraging youth smoking and teaching people how to quit than to information about the company.

Those idealists who believe that tobacco divestment will help end the addiction need to re-examine their logic. A fondness for tobacco ends only when individuals conclusively decide that the risk outweighs the benefits.

And if companies or individuals have the right to put their money wherever they want, hospitals should not be held to no different standard.

True, an oath is taken by all medical professionals, when they receive their accreditation, to protect the health and safety of their patients.

But that ethical vow is in no way impeded by having the endowments that support them partially invested in tobacco.

On the contrary, if tobacco investments are in any way beneficial to the profitability of the institution, then those in charge of investing have a duty to responsibly maintain those accounts for the benefit of their patients.

Tobacco companies give research money, endow chairs, and make numerous financial contributions to medical institutions across the country.

Let them.

More philanthropy in our country is always welcome.

Many tobacco companies do business in other industries as well. The regulation and bureaucracy would be out of control if the individual holdings of certain companies or groups had to be scrutinized before an investment could be deemed ethical.

Such logistics should not be a factor when the responsibilities of a hospital are at stake. While the argument for divestment is by no means unsound, the reality is that hospitals can simply not afford to listen.

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