At J&J, Smokers Keep Flame Alive Despite New Ban

March 22, 2007

Johnson & Johnson banned smoking on its properties in January, and since then employees who smoke have had to brave the elements and improve their map reading skills.

During a recent workday, an employee for Johnson & Johnson with a taste for Benson & Hedges cigarettes stood in the rain just beyond the property line of the company’s sprawling 210-acre campus in North Brunswick, New Jersey. The smoker, who sought shelter in the lee of a pine tree, was asked if he worked for the health care company.

“I’m not on Johnson & Johnson property,” was his response between drags of a wet cigarette.

The smoker, who has worked as a consultant for the company for six years and did want to give his name for fear of getting fired, says that if he sounded defensive, it’s because the new rule makes him so. “I would say that, definitely, it is clear that smoking is not appreciated here,” the consultant says.

These are not easy times for workers who smoke. Some companies, like Marys­ville, Ohio-based lawn care company Scotts Miracle-Gro, have gone so far as to fire employees who smoke—a policy that has led to a lawsuit. Johnson & Johnson has taken what might be the new middle ground in the effort to reduce the harmful economic and health effects of smoking by banning tobacco use on company property worldwide.

The ban went into effect in January but was announced in September 2005, giving employees more than a year to comply, says Marion Hochberg-Smith, director of workplace solutions at Johnson & Johnson.

“Setting this practice and giving notice seems to be the most sensitive way to encourage their behavior,” Hochberg-Smith says. “Given all the health issues with smoking, it seems like a responsible practice.”

Before the ban, the company had outdoor kiosks that provided a central gathering spot and some shelter for smokers. The kiosks have since been removed at the North Brunswick campus and replaced with no smoking signs. Color-coded maps in buildings show Johnson & Johnson property lines and the boundaries that constitute safe havens for smokers.

Another smoker, standing on the sidewalk outside of Johnson & Johnson headquarters in New Brunswick—which calls itself “Health Care City”—says he had been reprimanded for smoking on campus since the ban went into effect. He, too, is a temporary employee, having worked for Johnson & Johnson for a year, and did not want to give his name to a reporter.

“When it was cold, I’d sneak out to my car and make sure no one was looking,” he says.

But even that was forbidden.

“The car is my property but it sits on their property,” he says.

Long-term temporary workers are subject to the ban but do not receive the benefits the company offers, which include smoking cessation programs that are prominently advertised in the Johnson & Johnson lobbies. In interviews, employees who smoke say being banished from company property has caused them to smoke less.

Some employees, though, have begun to form carpools to shuttle themselves off campus for a smoke. Efrem Dlugacz, vice president for worldwide benefits at Johnson & Johnson, says the potential loss in productivity is a short-term price the company is willing to pay to deter people from smoking.

“Do they get great pleasure out of it?” Dlugacz says. “I don’t see those people smiling when they come back.”

Jeremy Smerd