After the smoking ban took effect in 2007, employers were able to quite quickly put into effect new policies and arrangements to meet the needs of smoking and non-smoking employees. However, in recent years the emergence of new electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) has posed a new challenge for those tasked with managing employees choosing to “vape”.
The number of e-cigarette users in the UK grew from 700,000 in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2013, and now stands at an estimated 2.6 million (compared to around 8 million tobacco users). This growth in numbers has come about so quickly that scientific research, and consequently health legislation, has struggled to keep pace. This unfortunately has left many employers in the dark as to how to manage “vaping” in the workplace.
E-cigarettes do contain nicotine, however as they don’t burn tobacco or other substances they fall outside of the scope of the Health Act 2006’s smoking ban. Although this means there’s no law prohibiting their use indoors, many organisations are banning the use of e-cigarettes by their staff, clients or customers on their premises. New research and forthcoming developments could open this approach to challenge meaning employers should be aware of the following information when deciding how best to deal with e-cigarette use in their organisation:
- Switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes offers potentially massive health benefits for the user. A new independent evidence review from Public Health England (PHE) has estimated that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking.
- E-cigarettes are very effective in helping smokers to quit – 60% more effective than nicotine patches and gums according to one study. The PHE report notes that e-cigarettes “have the potential to make a significant contribution to the endgame for tobacco”.
- They could soon be licensed meaning they could be prescribed by doctors. The move is strongly supported by medical experts and officials, and although the Government’s licensing process is holding the process up, licensing could be in place as early as 2016.
- There’s no evidence of harm from second-hand inhalation of e-cigarette vapour. One of the main reasons for the smoking ban was to reduce harm caused to non-smokers from breathing second-hand tobacco. Studies on e-cigarette vapour are yet to show any second-hand harm exists.
So although there’s no legal reason for restrictions to be placed on the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace, if employers decide they should be restricted, perhaps for nuisance reasons (vapour) or practical reasons (difficulty distinguishing between tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapour in certain settings), employers are advised to explicitly include e-cigarettes in an appropriate policy. Where this explicit policy doesn’t exist, employers can be, and have been challenged for taking disciplinary action against employees using e-cigarettes.
If and when licensing comes into play, e-cigarettes could be classed as medicine and offered to your employees on prescription by their doctor. Employers deciding to place restrictions on “vaping” would therefore be well advised to provide separate areas for e-cigarette users, away from designated smoking areas. Most e-cigarette users are using them as part of an attempt to quit or to reduce the harm to themselves and others from smoking. Requiring staff to use quitting aids during smoking breaks in areas where others are smoking tobacco is unlikely to help them quit successfully.
In conclusion, many employers have long-established policies and facilities in place to accommodate employees choosing to smoke tobacco. Responsible employers will provide as much or more support for e-cigarette users, helping them to make a positive change to their health and wellbeing.