EDMONTON - Alberta is being lauded by anti-smoking and social investment groups for being the first province to dump its investments in the tobacco industry.

A Crown corporation has sold $17.5 million in directly managed stock held by public sector pension funds and the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

The province is making the move as it prepares to file a lawsuit against big tobacco to recover health-care costs for smoking-related illnesses.

Leo de Bever (BEH'-ver), CEO of the Alberta Investment Management Corp., says the government doesn't want to be seen to have the shares when the lawsuit proceeds.

Groups including Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada say Alberta's move to divest itself of its tobacco shares is a first for a Canadian government.

The province passed a bill in 2009 to pave the way for its tobacco lawsuit, but the legislation has not yet been proclaimed and a statement of claim has not been filed.