Wednesday, Reynolds held its final shareholder’s meeting. That’s big news, but the local press here in Winston-Salem didn’t give BAT’s buyout of Reynolds much attention. WXII spent about a minute describing the worlds largest tobacco company. Then they went on to the next story without any reflection on Reynolds’ history with the city or the future of Reynolds under BAT ownership.
Richard Craver, the Winston-Salem Journal’s excellent business reporter, had a couple of good articles on the subject. I loved the way he started his article, Reynolds shareholders overwhelmingly sale to BAT, “It took 12 minutes Wednesday for Reynolds American Inc. shareholders to approve ending 142 years of corporate independence.”
The Journal had much more extensive coverage of Reynolds/BAT’s 2014 acquisition of Lorillard. This time around Winston’s paper of record seems more concerned with the Jason Corbett murder trial, than the creation of the world’s largest tobacco company. Molly Corbett may have killed her husband with the help of her father. I don’t know, that’s for the jury to decide. But tobacco use kills more than 7 million annually worldwide.
Too many people think that tobacco is a story of the past. They believe that Big Tobacco is transitioning away from tobacco. But BAT and the other remaining members of Big Tobacco aren’t transitioning away from tobacco any more than BP is transitioning away from oil. At best they’re diversifying.
I find tobacco a compelling story because tobacco continues to kill so many people here in America and abroad. Tobacco companies continue to shamelessly lie, perhaps with no equal.
They pioneered public relations and fraudulent advertisements. Their playbook of deception was instrumental in the decades’ long climate denial campaign by the coal and oil industries.
The 2 million square-foot cigarette factory in Tobaccoville sits on a 614-acre site — 46 of them are indoors. About 350 million smokes a day come out of this place, 80 billion a year. The machines that put them together churn out about 10,000 cigarettes per minute.” -Traid City Beat
Far from being a thing of the past, BAT/Reynolds could be a picture of a dystopian future that awaits us if we don’t act now. Where few workers are needed and the public good is of little concern.
Gone are the days that Reynolds employed a sizeable portion of the city’s workforce and paid more in taxes than anyone else in the state. Reynolds has always been fiercely anti-union, but the threat of unionization compelled them to pay good wages and benefits. For all of Reynolds’ faults, Reynolds did have a benevolent and philanthropic side. Gone are the days of Papa Reynolds.
Financialization and automation are the forces that define Reynolds and the rest of the tobacco industry today. Sure, they’ll be happy to give to the Art’s, but they’re not going to build houses for their workers like Reynolds did decades ago. BAT’s buyout of Reynolds is another reminder that the world is getting more precarious for ordinary workers and ordinary cities like Winston-Salem.
Winston has precious few corporations located here. Krispy Kreme and now Reynolds, the two corporations most closely associated with Winston are now both owned by European conglomerates.