SCOTLAND’s Business Minister is under fire after he bought nearly £50,000 in shares in an investment trust heavily linked to big tobacco companies.

Fergus Ewing registered the total value of the investments last month, despite the SNP Government taking a tough anti-smoking line.

In Opposition, the SNP supported the ban on smoking in public places and the curb on tobacco advertising.

In Government, the SNP has also backed plans to introduce ‘plain packaging’ of tobacco products and its MSPs have voted to extend the smoking ban to cars carrying children.

However, Ewing, the Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, has been criticised for his financial links to Big Tobacco.

According to his Holyrood register of interest, Ewing acquired £25,723 of shares in the Perpetual Income and Growth Investment Trust in May.

This was topped up in July with another £19,626 of shares in the same enterprise – taking the total value at December 7 last year to £44,093.

Established in 1996, the Trust’s objective is to “provide shareholders with capital growth and real growth in dividends over the medium to longer term”.

Its top three holdings – the firms it has the largest stake in – are all smoking related: Reynolds America; British American Tobacco; and Imperial Tobacco.

The holdings account for nearly 15% of the Trust’s entire portfolio.

Ewing’s financial advisers manage the portfolio on his behalf, but he could set the ethical parameters of his investments.

Perpetual’s sixth biggest holding, as of November 30, was in BAE Systems, the defence and aerospace giant.

Ewing is on his party’s right wing and is also known for holding views out of step with his party’s more leftish activists.

He is believed to be one of the SNP Ministers least hostile to fracking, despite his party membership’s staunch opposition to unconventional oil and gas developments.

After the SNP Government announced a moratorium on fracking, Green MSP Patrick Harvie claimed that Ewing had been on the brink of quitting as a result of the decision.

However, a Scottish Government spokesman described the claims as “categorically untrue”.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: "The public will be very surprised to find out that SNP Minister Fergus Ewing is such a big investor in big tobacco firms. The SNP Government must confirm whether or not Fergus Ewing has been involved in any decisions at all - whether in his own business portfolio, or across wider government - that may benefit these firms.

“People deserve to know that the first interest of government ministers is creating a better society, not making profits for big tobacco firms."

A spokesman for Mr Ewing said: “On being appointed as Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Mr Ewing took advice from the then Permanent Secretary on how best to structure his investments. This led to the sale of all holdings formerly held in individual companies. These were replaced with collective interests which, by their nature, are made up of a variety of differing investments. These are selected by financial advisors who manage these them on Mr Ewing’s behalf.

“Mr Ewing made a full disclosure of this in his MSP register of interests at the time.”

Ewing also registered around £30,000 of shares in the Temple Bar investment trust this year and acquired a £32,430 investment in Finsbury Growth & Income.

He has also registered stakes in around twenty further “collective interests” such as investment and unit trusts.