Marlboro Maker Suspends Manufacturing Due to Coronavirus

Decision comes as CEO contracts COVID-19, takes temporary leave, Altria says
marlboro cigarettes
Photograph: Shutterstock

RICHMOND, Va. — After learning that a second employee at its Philip Morris USA (PM USA) manufacturing center in Richmond, Va., had tested positive for COVID-19, Altria Group, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, announced it will temporarily suspend operations at that facility for two weeks “out of an abundance of caution.” On the same day, the company notified the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that its chairman and CEO had contracted the coronavirus and is taking a temporary leave of absence.

On March 19, Altria announced to its employees that Howard Willard, the company’s chairman and CEO, had contracted COVID-19 and is taking a temporary medical leave of absence. William Gifford, the company’s vice chairman and CFO, will assume Willard’s authority and responsibilities until he returns from his leave of absence, the company said.

In terms of its operational decision, PM USA has actively implemented business continuity plans and believes it has sufficient cigarette inventory for approximately two months based on current estimated shipping volume, in addition to current wholesale and retail inventories, officials said.

Manufacturing suspensions also involved a separate subsidiary. Altria said some domestic operations for John Middleton Inc. will also be suspended for two weeks due to coronavirus-related supply chain constraints. Middleton believes it has sufficient cigar inventory for approximately three months based on current estimated shipping volume, the company said.

“We are committed to protecting the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors, their families and the communities where we operate,” Gifford said. “We take the threat of COVID-19 seriously and have been actively implementing plans to minimize business disruptions and their potential impact to our employees, consumers and customers.”

During this temporary two-week suspension of plant operations, PM USA and Middleton will pay employees their regular base wages. PM USA and Middleton will evaluate providing additional pay continuation beyond that time frame as needed.

Altria said it continues to follow updates from public health authorities and is implementing recommended precautions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including travel restrictions, remote working and social distancing.

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