A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that life and health insurance companies in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain invest heavily in tobacco companies. Tobacco use is a major cause of fatal lung diseases and cancer, and is known to elevate the risk for heart attack and stroke. The study found that the American insurance company Prudential Financial, Inc. has $264.3 million invested in U.S. cigarette makers, including Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. The Canadian company Sun Life Financial, Inc., which sells life, health and disability insurance, owns over $1 billion worth of stock in tobacco interests, including $890 million in Philip Morris. Prudential Plc, which sells health and disability coverage, has $1.38 billion invested in two tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco. Wesley Boyd, the study's lead author and a faculty member of Harvard Medical School, says that while it may seem self-defeating for companies to sell insurance while also owning tobacco stocks, insurers have found ways to profit from both. "Insurers exclude smokers from coverage or, more commonly, charge them higher premiums. Insurers profit -- and smokers lose -- twice over." Study co-author David Himmelstien explains, "It's the combined taxidermist-and-veterinarian approach: either way, you get your dog back." Boyd adds that the main objective for insurance companies is not to safeguard customers' well-being, but to generate profits. The authors also point to this study as a reason why health insurance coverage should not be left in the hands of private insurers.
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