There has been a huge rise in the use of e-cigarettes, predominantly among current and former tobacco smokers.
This has left health officials and policymakers in a quandary as to how e-cigarettes should be regulated as a reduction in tobacco consumption is a good thing but the risks of smoking e-cigarettes or ‘vaping’ as it is known are not yet fully understood. That also goes for the risks to other people from the effects of second-hand e-cigarette smoke.
Business have therefore had little guidance on how to respond to the use of e-cigarettes but it is becoming apparent that there is a pressing need for vaping policies in the workplace due to a significant rise in their use.
The Rise of Vaping and the Potential Risks
According to research carried out by ash.org.uk in March 2014; an estimated 2.1 million adults are currently using electronic cigarettes. They are mainly used by ex-smokers and current smokers to help them reduce the amount they smoke or to quit altogether. Users can purchase different flavours and some contain little or no nicotine.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that e-cigarettes are banned indoors as concerns mount over potential health risks. The WHO agrees that e-cigarettes are likely to be less harmful than normal cigarettes but may pose threats to adolescents and the foetuses of pregnant women who use these devises.
Currently there are no plans to ban the use of e-cigarettes indoors in the UK.
Employees’ Use of E-cigarettes
The charity ‘Action on Smoking and Health’ has stated there is no evidence of any harm to bystanders and warned that any regulation on vaping needs to be proportionate. Despite this, Employers are best advised to take a cautious approach.
Acas has published a brief guidance note which addresses the issues employers need to consider when deciding upon a vaping policy. Acas acknowledges that “it’s in the interests of employers to do their bit to do their bit to promote health and well-being in the workplace” and that “supportive employers may be able to provide help and advice for employees who want to quit smoking”.
Acas also states employers should consider whether the devices are likely to upset workers “particularly if they are pregnant or trying to give up smoking themselves – or whether it’s in keeping with the professional image of an organisation”.
Any vaping policy that is implemented should deal with issues common to normal smoking policies such as the excessive use of smoking breaks leading to poor performance. The policy should define clearly the scope of any regulations being enforced such as times they cannot vape and the areas they cannot vape in to satisfy other workers. The employer should also consider penalties for persistent violators and ideally employees should be provided internal help and support on how to overcome their addiction to nicotine.
The lack of official regulation for vaping means we are in a period of uncertainty at the moment so individual employers must decide their own policy as there is currently no ‘one size fits all’ solution.