For many U.S. workers, smoking cigarettes in the office sounds like something out of a Mad Men episode. It's a relic of Corporate America's past so archaic that it's hard for many to comprehend it — like the three-martini lunch — ever really happened.
But at tobacco company Reynolds American, snuffing out smoke in employees' offices is just starting to happen. The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based maker of cigarette brands such as Camel, Kool and Pall Mall announced that in January it will begin imposing more restrictions on where its employees can light up. The new policies will be phased in through 2016, as new designated smoking areas are built.
The company already prohibits smoking on factory floors, in cafeterias and in fitness centers. But as of January, conference rooms and elevators will be off-limits to smoking as well, said Reynolds American spokesman David Howard. And once the new smoking areas are built, the ban will go into place in employee offices and hallways, too. Smokeless products such as e-cigarettes and moist snuff, however, will be permitted.
Howard said the company has been considering the change for several years, and decided it "was the right thing to do and the right time to do it, to better accommodate both non-smokers and smokers who work in or visit our facilities." He said the company was prepared for the attention the news has received, and was aware of the irony of its new policy.
"Obviously, indoor smoking restrictions are the norm today. Most people expect a smoke-free work environment," Howard said. "We're simply aligning our tobacco use policies with the realities of what you're seeing in the general public today."
The company estimates that the smoking rate among its employees is only slightly higher than the average for U.S. adults, which is 18 percent.
The move comes long after many companies have not only prohibited smoking in the office, but have begun penalizing those who smoke outside of it. For several years now, companies like Macy's and PepsiCo have been charging smokers a steeply higher surcharge on their health insurance.
They're hardly alone: A 2014 survey of nearly 600 large- and mid-sized employers, conducted jointly by the National Business Group on Health and Towers Watson, found that some 42 percent of employers either reward non-tobacco-users or levy a surcharge on smokers. The report found that the median surcharge smokers see is $520 a year — which can take the form of higher health insurance premiums, for example, or differences in deductibles or employer contributions to a health account. Another 16 percent of employers are expected to enact similar policies next year.
The same survey also found that 47 percent of companies ban smoking not only inside their offices, but outside their buildings and on their campuses. That number is expected to rise to 54 percent in 2015.
Some companies don't even want to employ people who smoke. The report found that 5 percent of companies — a number expected to rise to 7 percent next year — have a policy against hiring smokers altogether.
Reynolds American is the second largest tobacco maker in the United States after Philip Morris USA, which is owned by Altria Group. It also bans smoking on factory floors, and has long banned smoking in public places like elevators or hallways, said spokesman David Sylvia. But people with separate offices can smoke in them, and the company has set aside smoking areas in office buildings, conference areas and cafeterias.
Does it intend to follow Reynolds American's move to stub out smoking in employees' offices? Said Sylvia: "I haven't heard any planned changes on our end."