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E-cigarettes in the workplace – what do employers need to do?

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are becoming increasingly popular with ex-smokers and those trying to kick the habit. However, this is causing employers real difficulties in knowing how to manage their use in the workplace.

What is an e-cigarette? It is a battery operated device that turns nicotine into a vapour that can be inhaled. Some evidence states that they are 95% less harmful than tobacco products and could be a real option to helping smokers quit. However it is early days in identifying the risks involved and also the passive inhaling that inevitably occurs.

The British Medical Association has called for smoke-free legislation to be extended to include vapour from e-cigarettes, which would place “vaping” under the same restrictions as smoking in the workplace.

However, e-cigarettes are currently not covered by the smoking ban in the workplace and in public places, but more and more employers are introducing bans on “vaping” in their workplaces regardless. An alternative is to permit e-cigarettes in certain designated areas – but it is strongly suggested that this should NOT be the same area as normal smokers – as the e-cigarette user will then be exposed to passive smoking of cigarettes which will be totally counter-productive.

Also, many employers want to reduce smoking breaks among employees anyway, so providing “vaping” breaks will certainly not help, even though it may be supporting smokers who are genuinely trying to quit. Voltedge sugggests that employers consider this carefully, having a policy that either bans or clearly states usage will be in everyone’s interest.