Cigarette Maker To Phase Out Smoking in its Offices

10-23-14 Smoking ban at Camel
A woman smokes a cigarette in this illustration picture taken in Paris, October 8, 2014. Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Reynolds American Inc. may be a big honcho in the tobacco business, but it doesn't want its employees to smoke just anywhere. Starting on January 1 of next year, the smoking of traditional cigarettes, cigars and pipes will no longer be permitted in the conference rooms and elevators of the second-largest tobacco company in the U.S. and those of its subsidiaries, spokesman David Howard tells Newsweek.

"We believe it's the right thing to do and the right time to do it because updating our tobacco use policies will better accommodate both nonsmokers and smokers who work in and visit our facilities," Howard said.

Reynolds American is the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company—which makes Camel, Pall Mall, Winston, Salem, Doral, Kool, Misty, Capri, and Camel Snus ("premium tobacco that is pouched, smoke-free and spit-free")—as well as American Snuff Company LLC, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company Inc., Niconovum USA, Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company.

Over the course of 2015 and 2016, the company will build smoking areas in all of its facilities, which are primarily located in North Carolina, Tennessee and New Mexico. As the designated areas are constructed, the smoking of cigarettes, cigars and pipes will be permitted only there, making desks, hallways, and offices off-limits in addition to elevators and conference rooms.

However, the use of smoke-free products—such as e-cigarettes (like its product Vuse), products that primarily heat tobacco (like its Eclipse brand), and the company's "snus" product—will continue to be permitted anywhere at all of the company's locations.

The vast majority of Americans don't smoke, Howard explains, and that's the same with employees and visitors. According to Howard, the smoking rate among company employees, at 20 percent, is just slightly higher than the national average, which is roughly 18 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half of the U.S. is protected by 100 percent smoke-free workplace, restaurant and bar law, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. However, North Carolina and Tennessee have none of these laws and a preemption that prevents the passing of local laws along these lines, and only 36.6 percent of New Mexico's population is covered.

"We certainly respect the rights and personal choices of employees who choose to smoke or use tobacco products, but we also respect rights of those who don't," Howard tells Newsweek, saying that the irony of a tobacco company banning smoking almost entirely from its offices is not lost on him. But by creating designated smoking areas, he says, they are meeting the needs of smokers while implementing "changes [that] will make the work environment more inviting for visitors and nonsmokers."

The company is trying to "better align our tobacco use policies"—which Howard calls an update to the previous policy that prohibited smoking on its factory floors and in cafeterias and fitness centers—"with the realities of what you're seeing in society."

And the reality, he says, is that "most people expect a smoke-free work environment."

Asked whether the move was an admission that smoking is bad for your health, Howard said, "we believe that people should rely on conclusions of the Surgeon General and other health authorities."