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Cigarette-Maker Reynolds American To Ban Smoking At Work

The headquarters of Reynolds American in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C.. Starting in January, workers there will no longer be allowed to smoke at their desks. (Reuters/Landov)

Reynolds American, the country's second-largest cigarette-maker, is changing its policy on smoking in the office. Until now, Reynolds employees have been able to light up at their desks, but come January, workers will have to either go outside or use specially equipped smoking rooms.

"We allowed smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, traditional tobacco products throughout our facilities," says David Howard, a spokesman for Reynolds American. He says it's not as though his co-workers chain-smoke at work.

Smoking in the workplace is still legally permitted in some parts of the country, including in Reynolds' home state of North Carolina. But on Wednesday, as the Associated Press first reported, Reynolds said it would build designated smoking areas and prohibit smoking everywhere else.

E-cigarettes and smokeless products like snuff will still be allowed. But Howard says the policy will apply to all its subsidiaries. He says the company made the change to adapt to the times.

"Indoor smoking restrictions certainly are the norm today and most people expect a smoke-free business environment," Howard says.

Cynthia Hallett, executive director for Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, says she finds the new policy "ironic."

"Reynolds and other tobacco companies have been the leading opponents to the passage of these smoke-free-workplace laws at the state and local level," she says.

And yet here the company seems to be acknowledging that there is damage from secondhand smoke to its own workers. But Hallett isn't appeased.

"This feels like a lovely PR stunt by Reynolds to say, 'Oh, we're trying to come up to modern times and offer a smoke-free workplace to our employees,' when in fact, it's not 100 percent smoke-free," she says.

Hallett says smoke escapes from designated smoking areas, and e-cigarettes emit harmful chemicals and compounds as well.

Reynolds says its new policy will start taking effect on Jan. 1.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The country's second-largest cigarette maker is changing its policy on smoking in the office. Until now, employees of Reynolds American have been able to light up at their desks. Come January, they'll have to either go outside or use specially equipped smoking rooms. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on the company's change of heart.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: There was a time several decades ago when smoking in the office "Mad Men"-style was de rigueur. In some parts of the U.S. workplace, one can still live that lifestyle.

DAVID HOWARD: We allowed smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, traditional tobacco products, throughout our facilities.

NOGUCHI: David Howard is a spokesman for Reynolds American. He says it's not as though his coworkers chain-smoke at work. I ask him whether smoke lingers in the air around him as we speak.

HOWARD: No. I've worked here for 15 years, haven't noticed it. And we certainly have good ventilation systems.

NOGUCHI: Smoking in the workplace is still legally permitted in some parts of the country, including in Reynolds' home state of North Carolina. But yesterday, as the AP first reported, Reynolds said it would build designated smoking areas and prohibit smoking everywhere else. E-cigarettes and smokeless products like snuff will still be allowed. But Howard says the policy will apply to all its subsidiaries. He says the company made the change to adapt to the times.

HOWARD: Indoor smoking restrictions certainly are the norm today. And most people expect a smoke-free business environment.

CYNTHIA HALLETT: I find it very ironic.

NOGUCHI: Cynthia Hallett is executive director for Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

HALLETT: Reynolds and other tobacco companies have been the leading opponents to the passage of the smoke-free workplace laws at the local and state level.

NOGUCHI: And yet here, the company seems to be acknowledging that there is damage from secondhand smoke to its own workers. But Hallett isn't appeased.

HALLETT: This feels like a lovely PR stunt by Reynolds to say, oh, we're trying to come up to modern times and offer a smoke-free workplace to our employees when, in fact, it's not a hundred percent smoke-free.

NOGUCHI: She says smoke escapes from designated smoking areas. Reynolds says its new policy will start taking effect on January 1. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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