When corporate policies meet precision scientific equipment

One of my colleagues used to work as an IT consultant, and one of his clients was a tobacco company. Since they were a tobacco company, the company policy on smoking was "You can smoke anywhere, any time."

"Anywhere" includes the labs. The labs with very expensive precision scientific equipment.

My colleague told me that this policy meant that the company regularly replaced $50,000 pieces of equipment after only a few months, thanks to smoke damage. But the company couldn't change their smoking policy. Imagine the public relations disaster if a tobacco company had a no-smoking policy!

Starting next year, cigarette maker Reynolds American will be a smoke-free workplace.

Bonus chatter: One of the researchers showed my colleague one of those pieces of expensive scientific equipment. The way my colleague explained it, "On the graph was a spike. The spike is what makes the cigarette taste good. It also is what kills you. The trick was to tweak the product in order to move the spike far enough to the right that people prefer the product over the competition, but not so far that you end up killing your customer base." (Note that this was my colleague's interpretation of what the researcher said, not the researcher's actual words.)

Comments (14)
  1. IanBoyd says:

    I was trying to imagine who in the public would be grumpy if a tobacco company had a no-smoking policy. Who would take the opportunity to stand up and grandstand just because they can. Turns out it's right there in the linked story. The company is doomed to complaints no matter what they do.

    Bonus Chatter: I love the line that gave me an excellent perspective on the issue, "Every Surgeon General since 1964 has warned the public about smoking and since 1966 through Congressional mandate a pack of cigarettes has to carry a warning label. Turning around now and saying 'we've been had,' is frankly ridiculous."

  2. foo says:

    I once accompanied a salesman to a factory of a large (two nations in its name) tobacco company. My role was to answer technical questions. I remember half-expecting to see people puffing away around the table during the meeting like in old movies. (The board of inquiry scene in Aliens came to mind.) Anyways, I was surprised that there was no smoking allowed onsite except in designated outdoor areas. But the inside of the factory had the sweet, sweet smell of tobacco all through it. And coffee was free from regularly spaced vending machines along the hallways. Hallways with large posters of classic cigarette ads adorning the walls.

  3. asdf says:

    Raymond, I don't know how to contact Microsoft to report localization bugs but I just installed the latest windows preview builds and whoever localized it to en-US made the "Windows 9 Technical Preview" display strings use nonary instead of decimal.

  4. I can see some pretty good safety and stock control reasons for not allowing smoking inside a tobacco factory, frankly.  Such as you are basically in a building whose sole purpose is to produce something designed to burn.  And comparatively you're not allowed to take money into the working areas of a mint for a reason.

  5. koolraap says:

    For some reason I'm tangentially reminded of my friend who's dad designed and built condom testing machines (and associated software) — there wasn't a handle in their house that wasn't lubricated.

  6. David Crowell says:

    A friend of mine is a developer for a tobacco company.  She's also a former smoker with COPD.  Ugh.

  7. Ed R. says:

    I used to work for a multi-level marketing company, as a salaried software dev, not as a distributor/consultant/reseller. When they recruited me, I was afraid that once on board they might pressure me into becoming a distributor, but I was surprised to learn that staff and their immediates are not even allowed to sign up as distributors. Too much possibility of inside advantage.

    While I was working for another company, a colleague in sales visited Burger King headquarters. He found the BK executives he was to meet with enjoying a lunch from Wendy's. Of course, those executives know what's inside BK's food.

    I suppose that might be why you'd find nonsmokers at a tobacco company. Too much inside info.

  8. jgh says:

    Reminds me of when I was working in Hong Kong, one of our clients preferred to regularly replace their computer equipment, then to invest in buying an air conditioner.

  9. DWalker says:

    @asdf:  One phone number for Microsoft Support, that I use, for IT Professionals is 800-936-4700.  At least there, you can talk to someone who can tell you the right contacts.

  10. Nikolai says:


    Read his message twice, triple times, until you get the joke…

  11. Kramii says:


    I've read it 9 times, and I still don't get it.

  12. Simon Farnsworth says:


    "Nonary" is base 9, just as "binary" is base 2 and "hexadecimal" is base 16.

    If that doesn't help you get the (dire) joke, remember that "16" in decimal is "10" in hexadecimal and "2" in decimal is "10" in binary. "10" in nonary is "9" in decimal.

    If you're still not there, remember that MS recently announced that what had been "Windows 9" is now going to be "Windows 10".

  13. mh says:

    @Simon Farnsworth

    I think Kramii did get it.

  14. Marc K says:

    Ed. R: "…the BK executives he was to meet with enjoying a lunch from Wendy's. Of course, those executives know what's inside BK's food…"

    They would be pretty naive if they didn't realize that the exact same things are also in Wendy's food.

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