By Jean Roque, President, Trupp HR.
To vape or not to vape? It may be time to determine which side of the e-cig fence your company lands.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs, are battery-operated products designed to turn chemicals, including highly addictive nicotine, into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user. As of today, e-cigs are not regulated by the FDA as a tobacco product, but a proposed rule has been issued treating e-cigs the same as standard cigarettes. Currently, 14 state laws and hundreds of local laws regulate (to varying degrees) the public use of e-cigarettes.
Since e-cigs are relatively new (available in the U.S. since 2006), the potential risks, harm or benefits that accompany these products has not been sufficiently studied and quantified. This places employers in a bit of a precarious position.
Proponents of vaping in the workplace suggest that allowing e-cigarettes will increase the productivity of smokers, who typically would be taking frequent smoke breaks, and provide a less harmful alternative to smoking tobacco. Some employers have even taken this position to an extreme by supplying ‘vape kits’ to their tobacco smoking employees.
Or not to vape
Most employers, however, seem to be leaning the other way—including e-cigarettes in their ban on tobacco products. Arguments in favor of banning workplace vaping include:
- Mitigating the potential risks associated with complaints that e-cigs pose a health risk (such as pregnant women who do not want to be exposed to secondhand vapor) or are an irritant to employees who, for example, have allergies or asthma, or are sensitive to scents.
- Avoiding a negative perception by employees who view e-cigs as looking or being similar to other tobacco products.
- Maintaining a work environment that prioritizes employee wellness.
With the regulation of these products increasing and sufficient research data pending, employers may be wise to take a more conservative approach to this issue.
What steps should employers take next?
- Understand the current and pending laws that affect your work locations.
- Evaluate how your company may choose to address this topic, keeping in mind your company’s unique culture and values, organizational risks, work environment and employee population.
- Review and update existing tobacco/smoking policies to address e-cigarettes.