Vaping in the Workplace


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

With vaping becoming more common in recent years, employers need to stay up to date with the latest regulations on the practice and consider their own policies on it so managers and staff know where they stand.

Article 5 Minutes
Vaping in the Workplace

The use of e-cigarettes - commonly known as vaping - has increased in recent years. Employers therefore need to consider their policies on the practice and the potential consequences it could have for the business.

With the debate about the potential health risks of vaping ongoing, and regulations on this relatively new phenomenon constantly evolving, it's important to keep up with the latest guidance in locations where you do business.

You should also ask whether your company policies need to be updated to provide sufficient information to employees and clearly state your position on vaping.

The facts on vaping

The number of e-cigarette users worldwide increased significantly during the 2010s, rising from approximately seven million in 2011 to some 41 million in 2018. That number could be close to 55 million by the end of 2021, according to market research group Euromonitor. Spending on e-cigarettes is highest in the US, the UK and France, where consumers spent more than $10 billion on vape products in 2018.

While vaping has risen in popularity, the number of tobacco smokers has fallen by a small margin, dropping to just over one billion, figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show.

There have been legislative responses to the growth of e-cigarettes. In August 2016, the WHO recommended a ban on vaping in indoor areas and places where smoking is prohibited, due to the risk of non-users being exposed to chemicals and aerosols.

Many countries have introduced regulations in line with this recommendation, including the US, where several states have extended indoor smoking bans to include e-cigarettes. In September 2019, US health secretary Alex Azar said the Food and Drug Administration was working on a plan to take all non-tobacco e-cigarette flavors off the market.

From a compliance perspective, it's vital to check local vaping laws in areas where you do business and to ensure your staff are abiding by the rules.

However, in some territories - the UK, for example - vaping isn't subject to the same strict legislation as smoking, so employers have the power to decide whether or not to allow their employees to use e-cigarettes at work.

What vaping means for your business

All employers have a duty of care to look after the health and wellbeing of their workforce, so it's important to be aware of the potential risks of vaping and to share as much information as possible with your employees.

Since they're relatively new, the health effects of e-cigarettes are still not fully understood by the scientific community. The risks are certainly not as clear as those associated with tobacco smoking, but there are some known dangers with regards to e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. Research has shown that nicotine:

  • Is highly addictive
  • Is toxic to developing fetuses
  • Can harm adolescent and young brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s

However, it’s been argued that vaping can help people give up the more harmful habit of regular smoking. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that e-cigarettes can benefit adults who smoke and who aren’t pregnant, as long as they’re used as "a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products".

"The evidence so far shows e-cigarettes are much safer than tobacco and they have the potential to help people give up a deadly addiction." - George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK tobacco policy manager.

If you have people in your workforce who are trying to quit smoking, giving them access to a range of information on vaping - including how it could help them and the potential risks - could be highly useful.

But you also need to think about how you expect your employees to conduct themselves when they're at work. From a distance, or to someone who doesn't know the difference, vaping can be difficult to distinguish from smoking, so allowing your staff to use e-cigarettes in the workplace could create an unprofessional image.

This could be the case even if people are allowed to vape outside. A visiting client might not relish walking through a cloud of e-cigarette vapor as they enter your office, for example.

Should you include vaping in your smoking policy?

Making explicit mentions of vaping in your smoking policy could be the best way to give all employees the information they need on this issue. The policy might not even mention vaping if it hasn't been updated for some time, so it's important to refer specifically to this practice and to differentiate it from tobacco smoking.

Your workplace protocols should clearly state the company's position on vaping and explain the reasoning behind any restrictions you decide to implement. They should also be regularly checked and updated to make sure they're in line with the latest national or local laws on the use of e-cigarettes.

One particularly important assurance you should provide  is that employees and visitors who don't use e-cigarettes won't be exposed to the vapor. It's also important to state that e-cigarette users won't receive any unfair advantages or perks - more frequent breaks, for example.

Ultimately, you need to be very clear about the objectives you're looking to achieve with your policies and how they can benefit and protect employees, as well as the business.

If e-cigarettes continue to rise in popularity in the coming years, taking these steps and continually revisiting your smoking/vaping policy to keep it relevant will prove increasingly important.

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