Council accused of hypocrisy over tobacco investments while promoting 'smoke free' town

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A council which banned the sale of smoking related goods from market stalls in a prestigious new shopping complex on public health grounds has money tied up in tobacco companies through its pension funds, it has emerged.

Market trader Kieron Knight, who has built up a business based principally on selling goods for smokers on Barnsley market has been told he cannot continue to do so if he takes a stall at the new Glass Works complex, being built to replace Barnsley’s old Metropolitan Centre.
He has been offered help by the council to switch to other products, but says his reliance on supplying legally available items to smokers means it would be impossible to do so and has asked questions under Freedom of Information legislation which reveal the council invests indirectly through the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority, which provides retirement income for its staff, in several tobacco firms.
He has also clarified that while the council will not allow smoking related goods to be sold at the Glass Works, the rule does not apply to many dozens of shop premises rented out to traders in other parts of the borough.
As a result, he is now consulting lawyers about whether legal action for ‘deprivation of livelihood’ is possible against the council because, he believes, the authority is acting unreasonably.
“I have been paying rent to the council for 18 years and smoking is a perfectly legal practice,” he said.
“We have reason to believe we can sue for deprivation of livelihood,” he said.
Mr Knight said he accepted that smoking was a health risk, but added that smoking was a habit naturally in decline and he believes the council is acting hypocritically while banning some tenants from selling products related to the habit, while allowing it from many other outlets it rents out.
He is also concerned that while the council has a focus on smoking, the Glass Works and other town centre developments will have a major emphasis on food outlets, at a time of growing obesity.
The dispute adds to the growing gulf between existing market traders and the council, with some so unhappy with arrangements for the Glass Works stalls that they have already moved out and others planning to do so.
Some are worried about the impact of the loss of the multi-storey car park, to be demolished later this year, which currently provides convenient parking for those wanting to visit the market.
Barnsley Council has policies aimed at both promoting a reduction in smoking, with the aim of creating a smoke-free generation, and also promoting healthy eating.
They argue that putting smoking out of sight of an emerging generation will help to eliminate the desire for children to grow into smokers themselves.
Work has already begun with those expected to take units in the Market Kitchen food mall within the Glass Works, to ensure customers are given as much information as possible about the nutritional value of the dishes on sale.
Matthew Gladstone, Executive Director for Place at Barnsley Council, said the authority was intending to “explore” the issue of investments in tobacco companies with South Yorkshire Pensions Authority and said: “It is important that we take the lead on our smoke-free generation pledge and put measures in place to ensure Barnsley becomes smoke-free by 2025.
“Work to achieve that aim so far includes introducing smoke-free zones in the town centre – including in front of the market.
“We were the first northern town to have an outdoor public space smoke-free zone in its town centre. We will continue to introduce new initiatives to help us work towards our smoke-free goal.
“The primary aim of The Glass Works is to create a safe and welcoming family-friendly destination and we believe that this commitment is an important step to realising that ambition.
“More than one in five adults in Barnsley smoke and smoking costs the Barnsley economy £78.2 million per year - or £1,862 per smoker, and tobacco use remains the single largest cause of health inequalities, avoidable disease and premature death as well as contributing to family and child poverty.
“Evidence shows that if young people see smoking as part of everyday life they are more likely to smoke themselves so by making smoking invisible to children, we hope to vastly reduce the amount of children and young people picking up the habit,” he said.
Mr Knight has the support of smokers’ group Forest and director Simon Clark said: “Tobacco is a legal product. It’s wrong and extremely hypocritical for the council to ban the sale of smoking accessories in every market in the borough.
“To the best of our knowledge neither traders nor consumers were consulted which demonstrates the contempt the council has for local people.
“If the aim is to denormalise smoking it won’t work because smokers will buy their accessories elsewhere. The policy will however hurt market traders, some of whom may be forced out of business.”