The world has changed since the days so vividly portrayed in that critically-acclaimed drama series “Mad Men”. No longer are people lighting up whenever and wherever they feel like it. Smoking laws are making sure of that. Most workplaces have also enforced smoking bans. In a world that has become exponentially aware of the dangers of tobacco use, smoking—particularly smoking in public—is now frowned upon by society in general.
The advent of electronic cigarettes, however, is threatening to shake things up once again. Suddenly, tobacco-using members of the workforce who have shifted to e-cigarettes now have the opportunity to once again get their nicotine fix at work. After all, they wouldn’t technically be smoking in the workplace. They’d be vaping in the workplace, which many employers are probably not ready, to address just yet.
Nevertheless, vaping in the workplace needs to be addressed. As with any workplace issue, there are several factors that need to be considered. Let’s discuss some of those factors, including one that appears to be simple but could bring about unwanted complications if they go about it without utmost care.
Here’s an infographic to give you an overview of what’s to come in this article.
What are e-cigarettes?
To the uninitiated, e-cigarettes are battery-run cigarette-shaped devices that simulate the experience of smoking tobacco by vapourising what is referred to as an “e-liquid” for users to inhale. Typically, the main ingredients in e-liquid are propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, and flavourings. However, there are e-liquids being sold that does not contain propylene glycol, nicotine, or flavours.
Since it does not involve the actual burning of tobacco or any substance for that matter, using e-cigarettes is not considered by users as smoking, and is therefore not covered by public or workplace smoking bans.
E-cigarettes in Australia
Australia has some of the more complex laws on electronic cigarettes, and these laws may vary from one jurisdiction to another. Electronic cigarettes and the e-liquid can be bought legally in most states and territories as long as they don’t contain nicotine, which is classified by law as a dangerous poison. Unless you get a prescription from your doctor saying that you want to use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool, using e-cigarettes filled with nicotine is illegal in Australia.
That, however, hasn’t stopped the rise in the number of e-cigarette users Down Under. Vaping has become popular, but is it safe?
The jury is still out on the safety of e-cigarettes
To this day, the jury is still out on the safety of e-cigarettes. There is a general perception that they are less dangerous than real cigarettes because of the absence of combustion. As proponents of vaping also repeatedly point out, there is still no definitive proof that regular use of e-cigarettes may be harmful to one’s health. Studies on the safety of electronic cigarettes are conflicting at best. One report presented by Public Health England says e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco. The World Health Organization, however, maintains that e-cigarettes still deliver some toxins. As a matter of fact, Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, herself recommends that national governments ban electronic cigarettes or regulate them at the very least.
However, with vaping becoming a billion-dollar industry, a manufacturing and sales ban is highly unlikely. Unless an exhaustive and comprehensive study comes out and presents irrefutable proof that electronic cigarettes are definitely dangerous to one’s health, e-cigarettes will continue to be produced and sold, from all indications, in ever-growing numbers.
Some use e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools
More often than not, users believe their long-term health will benefit from vaping because electronic cigarettes are being touted as effective smoking cessation tools. They say that with the help of e-cigarettes, they can finally kick their tobacco habit, and their health will be the better for it.
This makes banning vaping in the workplace outright a bit trickier than usual. While you, as an employer, have the right to address the issue however you see fit, you might want to discuss this with your legal counsel before implementing such a policy. Banning e-cigarettes sounds simple enough, but you need to keep in mind that doing so could have an impact on their efforts to finally quit smoking real cigarettes. When that happens, you might find yourself at the receiving end of legal complaints accusing you of taking that tool away from them.
Other employees may find e-cigarette vapour distressing
While employers have to take the need of some employees for a smoking cessation tool into account, the needs of all non-vaping employees should also be considered. In all likelihood, employees who do not smoke or vape may get annoyed, distressed or at the very least, distracted by the sight of thick e-cigarette vapour wafting all over the workplace. While these vapours are generally odourless, there are some people who detect a sweet smell from these vapours, which some may find sickening. The sight and smell of vaping may create an unpleasant working environment.
Any policy to address vaping in the workplace should be clear-cut
As stated earlier, an organisation will eventually have to address e-cigarettes at work. When an employer does so, the rules on the use of e-cigarettes at work should be absolutely clear. If the company already has an existing policy on smoking, a few paragraphs about electronic cigarettes could be inserted there.
The new rules should state, among other things, if vaping in the workplace is allowed or not. If it is, then the rules should indicate clearly where electronic cigarette use will be allowed. That means assigning “vaping areas”, much like the smoking areas that are given to employees who smoke in organisations where smoking in the workplace is still allowed. This is to make sure that those who use electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool can continue to have the freedom to do so at work. At the same time, assigning vaping areas also ensures that non-vapers won’t be bothered by the sight and smell of electronic cigarette vapour.
Mixing vapers and smokers not a good idea
In case your organisation still allows smoking in the workplace in designated areas, do not make the mistake of having vapers use the same areas as smokers. Requiring vapers to do so would expose them to cigarette smoke, and that could seriously undermine their efforts to kick their own cigarette smoking habit. Also, both smokers and vapers need to follow the same rules regarding smoking/vaping breaks. This includes rules on following break times, how long the break lasts or how many can be taken. It should also be made clear to everyone that violating any of the rules that cover both smoking and vaping in the workplace will result in disciplinary action.
However you decide to address vaping in the workplace, always do it with the best interest of everyone in the workforce in mind.