Has the fog cleared on vaping at work?
E-cigarettes have not been around long but you can find an E-cigarette shop in almost every high street or shopping centre and it is estimated that there are circa 2.8 million E-cigarette users in the UK.
Most employers tend to categorise E-cigarettes with traditional, tobacco, cigarettes and do not give it a second thought that they could be caught out by their current no-smoking policies.
If you follow this school of thought, you may want to keep reading because the use of E-cigarettes is not covered by the Health Act 2006 and so, unlike traditional cigarettes, the use of E-cigarettes is not banned, by legislation, in public places or workplaces.
What is the difference between traditonal cigarettes and E-cigarettes?
Unlike traditional cigarettes, E-cigarettes come in two parts, the liquid nicotine and a rechargeable battery and atomiser (which to the writer sounds like a bad James Bond weapon). Additionally, they do not:
- Contain tobacco which contains cancer forming chemicals
- Contain tar, which is one of the main contributors to ill-health of traditional cigarette users.
Whilst E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance, their use does not fall within the statutory definitions of smoking as it does not involve the lighting/burning of tobacco or other substances and does not produce smoke.
Instead, the users are ‘vaping’. E-cigarette vaporises the liquid nicotine which is absorbed through the mouth and produces a cloud of ‘largely’ water vapour.
Health concerns and benefits
Many consider that vaping poses similar health risks to that of traditional cigarettes and that it glamourizes what looks like smoking a traditional cigarette.
However, there has been some in-depth research conducted to consider the potential benefits of vaping. Commentators include Public Health England (PHE) who concluded that vaping is 95% safer than smoking, extending to second hand vapour. The World Health Organisation came to a similar conclusion.
Commentators and users have argued that vaping helps to stop smoking traditional cigarettes. Arguably this is to the benefit of all as commentators have asserted that smoking traditional cigarettes kills in the region of 100,000 people every year in the UK.
However, it should also be borne in mind that the long term health effects of vaping are currently unknown.
So with the potential health benefits what are companies doing? Well, the BBC has banned E-cigarettes completely. Interestingly, it is reported, that their policy states they did so based solely on appearance and etiquette, not health and safety. At the other extreme, UK Fast allows employees to vape at their desk.
So what are employers to do with this burning issue? Whilst there is no legislation covering vaping at work, employers have the right to ban it in the workplace and below we have outlined some areas of consideration:
- Continue to comply with smoke-free laws
- Have a clear and available policy that defines traditional cigarettes and E-cigarettes
- Support those who are trying to quit smoking with appropriate signposting to relevant support groups
- Consider whether you are going to permit vaping in the workplace, if so, ensure that you risk asses the areas you allow and, where possibly, allow those vaping to do so away from smokers. Outline which products may be used and the penalties for non-compliance
- If there will be a ban on vaping in the workplace, why are you doing so, for example for commercial reasons, professional etiquette, annoyance and distress of others and/or the health and safety of others.
If you have a smoking policy which is not up to date and would like us to review it or alternatively if you don’t have a smoking policy, please feel free to get in touch with us.
For more information on the above, please find the original article on the ACAS website: E-cigarettes in the workplace