Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), the second-largest U.S. tobacco producer, recognizes the irony in its new policy of banning smoking at its corporate offices.
The maker of Camel cigarettes will shunt smokers in all of its buildings to designated indoor smoking areas, clearing the air for the majority of employees and visitors who don’t light up. Electronic cigarettes will be allowed outside those spaces.
“We’re well aware that there will be folks who see this as an irony, but we believe it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” David Howard, a Reynolds spokesman, said in an interview.
The decision is the latest sign of a tobacco industry coming to terms with the safety of its products after a $206 billion settlement with 46 states in 1998. Reynolds Chief Executive Officer Susan Cameron, a former smoker who now vapes, is leading a push into smokeless products like e-cigs that may one day overtake combustibles. The strategy entails acknowledging that traditional cigarettes are more harmful.
Reynolds, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, already bans smoking on factory floors as well as in cafeterias and fitness centers, Howard said. Workers were allowed, however, to toke combustible cigarettes, pipes and cigars in offices, hallways, elevators and at their desks.
The new prohibitions will start in January and be phased in through 2016 as the new smoking lounges are constructed, Howard said. The rules were signed off on by Reynolds leadership, including Cameron. The company estimates that smoking by its 5,200 employees is in line with national adult rates of about 18 percent.
Altria Group Inc. (MO), the largest U.S. tobacco seller, still allows smoking in separate offices. Lighting up tobacco is prohibited on factory floors and in elevators and hallways. The company also has designated smoking areas.
Reynolds employees will be allowed to use smokeless products such as e-cigs and moist snuff, Howard said. Heat-not-burn cigarettes, which don’t set the tobacco on fire, also will be tolerated.
“E-cigarettes and vapor products are different from traditional cigarettes,” Howard said. “There’s no combustion, there’s no smoke, there’s no secondhand smoke. As a result they should be treated differently regarding use restrictions.”
E-cigs carry less risk than combustible smokes, which kill about 500,000 people a year from tar and other toxins, Mitch Zeller, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, has said. The devices typically rely on batteries to heat up liquid nicotine, producing an inhalable vapor. They often mimic the look and feel of traditional cigarettes.
At a tobacco conference earlier this month, Cameron urged the FDA to take faster action in regulating e-cigarettes, saying the lack of clear rules makes it harder for smokers to switch to the less-hazardous products. Lorillard Inc. (LO) CEO Murray Kessler, speaking at the same conference, said delays could jeopardize the huge potential health benefits from converting smokers to the newer technology, he said.
The two companies, which agreed this year to merge in a $25 billion deal, will divest Lorillard’s market-leading Blu e-cig brand and instead market Reynolds’s new Vuse device. The U.S. e-cig market is worth about $3 billion, less than 5 percent of the tobacco industry’s total.
To contact the reporter on this story: Duane D. Stanford in Atlanta at firstname.lastname@example.org