A lot has been said on the subject of e-cigarettes in the workplace. This post, will hopefully, condense all the important points of the debate and help you make an e-cigarette policy for your organization.
What are e-cigarettes and where does regulation stand?
An e-cigarette or electronic cigarette is a battery-powered device that mimics real cigarettes and vaporizes a liquid that contains nicotine. Under the law, E-cigarettes are not classified the same as traditional cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes is not considered smoking in the usual sense. Traditional cigarettes contain identified carcinogens in harmful levels and emit a lingering cloud of fumes. E-cigarettes are purported to emit odourless, non-toxic fumes containing water. However, it has been found that e-cigarettes contain carcinogens, lead etc., but in trace amounts. While proponents of e-cigarettes allege that e-cigarette vapour is harmless to bystanders and users and that there is no proof of associated health risks from e-cigarettes, we still do not know enough about the components of e-cigarettes and their long term health effects.
Originally, smoke-free laws were enacted before the existence of e-cigarettes in the marketplace and did not explicitly mention e-cigarettes. However, in recent times, 28 states and the District of Columbia have banned smoking at work, but only three—New Jersey, Utah and North Dakota—have added e-cigarettes to those bans. Meantime, 150 municipalities have banned ‘Vaping’ – smoking e-cigarettes – in public spaces including restaurants, bars and offices.
Opponents of e-cigarettes feel that there are insufficient standards and quality control processes in place for their manufacture, marketing and advertising. Employers, on the other hand, are often in a dilemma when deciding to treat e-cigarettes as regular smoking and imposing a ban or allowing it in the workplace.
E-cigarettes at work
E-cigarettes are considered to improve employee productivity due to the reduced number of smoking breaks employees take during the workday. ‘Vaping’ or smoking e-cigarettes are considered an effective smoking cessation tool. However, there isn’t enough information on e-cigarettes in general and there haven’t been long-term studies studying the effects of e-cigarettes.
The problem with allowing e-cigarettes at the workplace is that that the vapors may bother non-smokers. Also, since e-cigarettes look similar to traditional cigarettes from a distance, they may lead to confusion regarding the smoking policy in an organization and in regulating the use of traditional cigarettes. Allowing their use may also counter the intent of nontobacco policies.
What to Consider When Establishing an E-Cigarette Policy in the Workplace
Understand where the law stands
As mentioned before, some states and municipalities consider e-smoking the same as regular smoking. Whether you, as an employer decide to prohibit e-cigarettes or encourage them, it’s important to be aware of state and local laws regarding smoke-free workplaces and determine if e-cigarettes are covered under existing bans. Stay informed of new laws and emerging scientific evidence regarding e-cigarettes.
Examine and modify your company’s existing smoking policy and insurance plans
Determine the wording and extent of existing smoking policies. Companies may also have policies in place regarding nicotine use. It’s important to be clear on the organizational policies, for example, an organization may not hire nicotine users but some e-cigarettes don’t contain nicotine. While e-cigarettes are encouraged as potential cessation devices, they are not recognized as such under federal and state regulations and employees who may use them may still be considered smokers, which is likely to impact health insurance plans.
Understand the potential implications of your decision
Banning the e-cigarette at work only requires adding it to the existing no-tobacco policy. Nonsmoking employees might file a complaint about e-cigarette use in the workplace. However, employers banning e-smoking in the workplace can face legal challenges for infringement on the e-smoker’s rights. Some states protect the rights of smokers. Before deciding on your stance about electronic cigarettes in the workplace, you must define the legitimate business interests in favor of your decision
If you do decide to allow e-cigarettes in the workplace, you must understand the potential problems that could arise as a result of this decision. E-cigarettes look similar to regular cigarettes
and may cause confusion about no-smoking policies. As well as that, the monitoring of traditional cigarette use would be difficult. Making employees aware of the difference between e-smoking and regular smoking could help reduce the confusion in employees’ mind and to ensure company policies are followed.
Non-smoking employees as well as other employees may be disturbed by e-smokers. Employees trying to quit smoking may prefer not to be exposed to e-cigarettes. E-cigarette smokers may not be willing to smoke in the same areas which are designated for regular smokers. Organizations need to keep these factors in mind when making an e-smoking policy.
Another aspect of e-cigarettes that employers need to keep in mind is the proper disposal or batteries and electronic components. E-cigarettes should be discarded as electronic waste and employers must provide employees the means to throw out their devices when necessary.
Let me reiterate that being aware of the positive and negative aspects of e-cigarettes and their use, as well as their potential impact on the organization’s human resource programs with regulations is essential. This post, has hopefully, clarified some concerns in your mind regarding e-smoking in the workplace.