Electronic cigarettes have become widely used in many places as a substitute for traditional ones, including in the workplace. In the UK alone there are apparently over one million users.
However, the e-Cigarette is apparently not risk free. There are a number of health concerns and also insufficient data on the long term effects of use.
Trend to restrict
As a result there have been moves in some countries or states to restrict their use or even ban them. The current worldwide picture is still heavily weighted towards unrestricted sale and use. However, bans are in place of one sort or another in Denmark, UAE and Brazil and recent developments in the US and the EU show a clear trend towards more regulation and restraint.
In LA recently the City Council voted to treat e-Cigarettes the same as ordinary cigarettes and therefore ban them from most public places. In doing this they followed Chicago, Boston and New York.
In February, the European Parliament voted through revisions to the rules on tobacco products including e-Cigarettes, which are expected to be in force by 2016. Member States will be able to introduce their own measures. In the UK they are to be regulated as medicines.
In the workplace
How should employers deal with e-Cigarettes? It is in the employer’s interest to promote the wellbeing and health of the employees but there is potential confusion here. Many people use e-Cigarettes to help them give up smoking traditional ones, and therefore bring a health benefit. However, if e-Cigarettes cause harm as well, what then?
Having a more permissive policy in the workplace for e-Cigarettes risks upsetting staff who don’t smoke or are trying to kick the whole habit.
Perhaps the simplest approach is for companies to treat e-Cigarettes exactly the same as ordinary cigarettes and have appropriate policies in place to ensure compliance. However, employers should note that if they provide a smoking area for traditional smokers during work breaks they should not require e-smokers to use the same area but rather should contemplate a separate area for the e-smokers.
Globally, subject to a quick check on the local law, employers should pay close attention to local cultural attitudes to smoking in the workplace as these vary considerably and will be critical.