Wendy’s International Inc. reached an agreement Thursday with a shareholder group to ban smoking at all company-owned restaurants in the United States by March 31.

The company, based in suburban Dublin, also said in the agreement with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility that it would encourage adoption of a nonsmoking policy at franchised restaurants by that date.

Wendy’s spokesman Denny Lynch said the agreement will become corporate policy once it is signed by company officials, probably in early January.

Lynch said about 1,000 of the company’s 5,000 restaurants in the U.S. are company-owned. Eighty-five percent of its company-owned and one-third of franchises already are smoke-free, he said.

In return for the smoking ban, the ICCR agreed to withdraw a resolution asking Wendy’s to put a smoking ban into effect. It had planned to introduce that proposal at the company’s 2001 shareholders meeting.

The agreement will be implemented at Wendy’s restaurants in stages. It is to take effect Jan. 1 in the West, Feb. 1 in the Southeast, March 1 in upper northern states, and March 31 in the Midwest and Northeast.

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