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, whose business is 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.
The revelation that the council invests indirectly through the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority, which provides retirement income for its staff, in several tobacco firms, came after Mr Knight asked questions under Freedom of Information legislation.
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. We have reason to believe we can sue for deprivation of livelihood,” he said.
Barnsley Council has policies aimed at promoting a reduction in smoking, with the aim of creating a smoke-free generation.
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.
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.
“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, costing the Barnsley economy £78.2m per year, he said.