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USA: Reynolds goes smoke-free
  1. David Simpson

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    Three days after the Altria/PM annual meeting (see above), Reynolds American (Reynolds) held its own annual shareholders’ meeting. It is the holding company of RJ Reynolds Tobacco, the second largest cigarette company in the USA, which manufactures and markets about one third of the cigarettes sold there, and is the only part of the former RJ Reynolds group not bought up by Japan Tobacco. As with Altria, Reynolds found itself facing a record number of activists, including Anne Morrow Donley, co-founder and president of the anti-tobacco group Virginia GASP.

    The activists dominated the meeting, though unfortunately for them, the press was not there in force; tobacco companies probably now prefer to deal with financial press privately to ensure that their all important financial results and future prospects get reported free of inconvenient content related to the human realities of their trade. Previous meetings had been filled with smoke, so Anne Morrow Donley brought along a respirator. Getting to the meeting an hour early to discuss the situation with the company (it was at Reynolds’ headquarters in Winston Salem, North Carolina), she suggested that either the meeting would have to be smoke-free, or she would have to wear the respirator.

    At first she was told she should wear the respirator if she was comfortable doing so, but soon other company officials became involved and tried to get a wireless microphone to work from the non-smoking observers’ room. However, practical considerations seemed too difficult to resolve, and they decided that the simplest solution was…to make the meeting smoke-free. As the activists walked into the meeting room, ushers on either side were saying over and over again to everyone attending, “This meeting is smoke-free. Please do not light up”. When Reynolds president and chief executive Andrew Schindler opened the meeting, his welcome was quickly followed by the same request, and the explanation that the meeting was smoke-free “at the request of shareholders and guests”.

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    A reporter from the The Winston-Salem Journal remarked that he was “stunned” by the announcement. He was reminded by another activist, Father Michael Crosby, the Catholic priest well known for his campaigning work to reduce tobacco deaths, that when the company did the right thing, no one challenged it. (Crosby seconded a resolution to require Reynolds to make self-extinguishing cigarettes for all markets, reminding Schindler that in 1997, a cigarette fire caused $1 million in damage to Schindler’s vacation home and surrounding properties. Schindler made no response.) Despite the reporter’s amazement, the subsequent report in The Winston-Salem Journal carried no mention of the historic move to a non-smoking meeting.

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    The prospect of having Anne Morrow Donley wearing her respirator at the annual shareholders’ meeting may have had something to do with Reynolds’ hasty and highly unusual decision to make the meeting smoke-free.

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