This content is from: Portfolio

Smoking in the Boys’ Room

New York City effectively banned smoking in offices in 1988, and II was there to defend the “marginalized world of secret smokers on Wall Street.”

  • Leanna Orr

Before environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies became de rigueur for any investment house that hoped to capture big money, Wall Street struggled to protect its own downtrodden class: Cigarette smokers.

Institutional Investor was all over it.

“It’s not easy being a smoker on Wall Street,” wrote Mary Lowengard on the last page of November 1992’s issue. (On the cover: Richard Rainwater, star Bass family manager, casually doing bicep curls.)

“Once an integral part of mainstream office life, smokers have now been marginalized, exiled from water coolers, sent scurrying from trading desks, beset by health nuts and the olfactory squad, tobacco division,” the article continues. “Unfortunately for smokers,” Lowengard quotes a health department official, “‘nonsmokers are pretty zealous about protecting their rights.’”

Yet guerilla users endured. Pension accountants Tony W. and Guy L. confessed their “special place” — a file room — to sneak forbidden Salem Ultra Lights. Equity broker Phil H. estimated that his habit cost about $200 per day in lost commissions. He hit the streets when the office smoking lounge closed, but was motivated by the rules. “Once you make your first million, you get your own office and can smoke all you want.”

No longer.

In today’s world of finance, it can take years to discover that a business contact is an undercover puffer. After a particularly rambunctious awards dinner, perhaps, one may suss out another, a “do-you-party-bro” sizing up. And here, ‘party’ means paying $16 for a packet of Marlboro reds, and during the train ride home, thinking up excuses to tell one’s partner why you smell like a bingo parlor. (“Some investors from, uh, Turkey are here doing diligence. That big sovereign Kuwait wealth fund. I mean, Istanbul! We all went to a cigar bar with the shisha pipes to respect their culture.” Spouse: “Mmmmhm. Go shower.”)

The cigarette smoking class is a dying Wall Street breed, but the next finance generation brings along their own vapors.

“Is smoking cigarettes frowned upon in banking?” a user posted on Wall Street Oasis, a popular forum for young financiers. “Occasionally I smoke... is that a bad idea?”

A favorite response: “How about cannabis?”