What R.J. Reynolds Banning Smoking In Its Offices Means For Big Tobacco

Ah, cigarettes . . . Who doesn't enjoy a good puff? It seems like every white-hot star these days can be seen puffing away. Everyone from newsman Edward R. Murrow:


Or popular crooner Frank Sinatra:


Or this guy:


Because, let's face it "” smoking is cool. Take your ordinary, average guy and put a cigarette in his mouth and suddenly he's Batman. Or Johnny Depp. Or Dean Martin. Whoever. The point is, he looks cool.

And it works for girls, too. Look at how cool this chick is, puffing away:

Carlos Huerta

Unfortunately, smoking has some downsides. The whole lung cancer thing, emphysema, coughing, shortness of breath, and heart attack risk have really put a damper on how people view smoking nowadays.

It seems like smoking has been banned pretty much everywhere. I have to walk five miles from my home and smoke under a freeway overpass with the local hobos to enjoy a cigarette without being glared at by disapproving mothers. Fifteen years ago or so when I started smoking, you could smoke anywhere "” bars, restaurants, hospitals, children's libraries . . .

Well, maybe not anywhere, but you get the point. Which brings me to my main point, which I couldn't help but find amusing, hypocritical, and somehow poetic: R.J. Reynolds, the number two tobacco company in America, has banned the use of tobacco products in the workplace. That means offices, elevators, and conference rooms are now smoke-free and if someone wants to light up, they have to go outside like pretty much every other workplace in the country.

The irony, or perhaps hypocrisy, on display here is pretty obvious. A major cigarette manufacturer is essentially tacitly admitting that their product is harmful not just when used directly, but also when inhaled secondhand.

To me this would be akin to 7-11 not allowing its employees to drink Big Gulps or Ford not allowing its salesmen to drive its own cars.

And I know from personal experience that R.J. Reynold's previously had no problem allowing its employees to light up in the workplace. I interviewed with them for a job opening a while back and the interviewer and paperwork relating to the position both mentioned several times that the company allowed smoking in the workplace. Naturally, being a smoker this wasn't a dealbreaker for me. However, even as a smoker, I would much prefer a smoke-free work environment. Being in a smoky bar for a couple of hours is not the same as spending 40 hours a week in a hotboxed office.

Anyway, back to R.J. and its history of hypocrisy. First off, cigarette companies have been behind the times for awhile now. I honestly think some of them still have the mentality that led to ads like this back in the 40s:

"Thanks, doc!" *cough* earonmouse.com

But I suppose it's tricky to market a product that started out as a doctor-approved health aid and ended up as the most demonized and hated industry in the country when everyone found out cigarettes were basically death sticks. So now we get ads like this:


. . . which don't even show a cigarette, much less cigarette smoke. They just put an attractive girl in their place.

Which brings us in an indirect way to House Bill 259. You can read it here. Back in 2007, House Bill 259 was proposed, and Article 23 of that bill essentially eliminated smoking in any public place. How did R.J. Reynold's react? As you might expect. Here's Tommy J. Payne, executive VP of public affairs for Reynold's:

"We believe owners of bars, taverns and private clubs should have the right to set smoking policies that suit their clientele. Bar and tavern owners are generally small businesspeople "” we think they should have the right to decide whether they want to allow smoking, not the government. In supporting this bill, the restaurant association may be looking out for their fine-dining establishments, but small businesses often don't have the luxury of big profit margins to fall back on."

Well, that's interesting. According to Tommy Payne, small businesses should be allowed to allow smoking. And, obviously at the time, he felt that a big business like R.J. Reynold's should be allowed to let its employees smoke as well, because they did. So what changed the company's stance?

Their reasoning? "To better align our tobacco use policies with the realities of what you're seeing in society today," according to Reynold's spokesman David Howard.

Translation: "Our employees kept dying of lung cancer and we got sick of replacing them."

True that, HuffingtonPost

Even more interesting is that R.J. Reynold's recently rallied against the use of e-cigarettes (part of the "new trend' no doubt?) Even though e-cigarettes are considered safer than regular cigarettes due to their use of water vapor rather than smoke, Reynold's still lobbied to get them banned. Why?

According to the American Vaping Association, "R.J. Reynolds' call for the FDA to ban the majority of e-cigarette products should be seen for what it really is "” an admission by R.J. Reynolds that it simply cannot compete in the current e-cigarette market. Recent market reports show that while sales of open-system e-cigarette products and e-liquid are booming, sales of closed-system cigarette lookalikes "“ the kind that R.J. Reynolds sells "” have stagnated."

How interesting. So, R.J. Reynold's didn't support the healthier e-cigs merely a month ago, then bans regular cigarettes in its own workplace?

Maybe it's because R.J. Reynold's has been out of touch with its consumers and even employees for too long. While they are launching a new e-cig, the Vuse, they were late to the e-cig game and don't have even close to the market share that brands like Blu do.

Regardless, as a smoker, I am still well aware of the annoyance of having somebody constantly puffing away next to you all night. At a bar, that used to be expected. But in the work place? No thanks.

I have to wonder if this change was made because of employee complaints or because of corporate image problems. But it is telling when a company won't even let its own employees use its products at work. Imagine if you worked for Mars bars and they wouldn't let you eat one on the job. Pretty weird, right?

Honestly, all this news is good for everybody. No smoke-filled offices for R.J. Reynold's employees, there's a push for e-cigs from smaller companies that could potentially overthrow big tobacco one day, and it has brought about a greater awareness that a company should be able to stand by its products.
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