Reynolds American has been making or selling cigarettes in downtown Winston-Salem since R.J. Reynolds opened his first tobacco factory here in 1913. And all this time its downtown employees have been free to smoke the product they market.
Beginning in 2016, Reynolds employees and guests will be restricted to smoking in designated indoor smoking areas only, officially banning the use of tobacco in elevators and offices. Founded as RJ Reynolds Tobacco with their introduction of Camel cigarettes in 1913, Reynolds American is currently the second-largest tobacco producer in the United States.
There’s no press release about the upcoming ban, but when word got out three weeks ago, the news made national headlines, as news outlets including Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times picked up on the story.
David Howard, the company spokesman on the ban, did not return repeated phone calls from a student reporter. The company website says that it does not talk with students.
But he was widely quoted in the press explaining the policy.
“We’re just better aligning our tobacco use policies with the realities of what you’re seeing in society today,” Reynolds spokesman David Howard told the press. He reported that of the 5,200 Reynolds American employees, about 20% are smokers.
“We believe it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it. It will better accommodate both non-smokers and smokers who work and visit our facilities,” Howard said.
The irony of the ban was not lost on Patrick Reynolds, grandson of the RJR founder and Executive Director of Foundation for a Smokefree America. Reynolds “crossed over” to the fight against tobacco after his father RJ Reynolds, Jr. died from emphysema caused by smoking and has committed himself to working towards a tobacco free society.
Commenting on the ban over a phone interview from California last week, Reynolds was skeptical of the tobacco company’s intentions.
“It’s ironic, even funny, that they’re not allowed to smoke the cigarettes they sell,” Reynolds said. “The company [Reynolds American] is cloaking themselves in the garb of responsible corporate citizens, but in fact, the company has continued to market to kids and fight policies proven to reduce tobacco use.”
Reynolds pointed out how the new ban is weak, as it will continue to permit smoking indoors, which does not provide the same protection to employees as the “100 percent bans” found in many workplaces.
Lynne Mitchell, Personal Health Services Administrator of Forsyth County’s Department of Public Health, felt the smoking ban is a necessary component of Reynolds’ wellness program.
“When you look at the statistics for premature deaths, smoking still remains a leading cause in death,” Mitchell said. “We also know the dangers of secondhand smoke, so this ban will definitely create a more healthful environment for employees and visitors.”
“The Reynolds smoking ban is a sensitive topic for Winston-Salem,” Mitchell added.
According to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, less than half of the U.S. is protected by 100 percent smoke-free workplace, restaurant and bar law. Furthermore, North Carolina is one of the many states that has none of these laws and a state law preventing the passing of local laws.
“People in Forsyth County and downtown Winston-Salem are convinced that the tobacco industry is a great provider of jobs and revenue,” said Reynolds, “but studies show that [with the absence of Reynolds] discretion money spent on tobacco could be quickly spent on other products overnight.”
According to Winston-Salem’s Chamber of Commerce report, Reynolds American remains the fourth largest employer in Forsyth County, providing jobs for approximately 3,000 employees in the Winston-Salem based factory alone.