Although the difference between smoking a cigarette and a e-cigarette, also known as ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery System), may be noticeably different, the understanding on what is acceptable at the workplace can be less obvious.
Organisations need a clear policy on whether to allow people to ‘vape’ anywhere, nowhere or restricted areas, to avoid misunderstandings and legal action.
Unlike cigarettes, pipes, cigars or even herbal cigarettes that have been banned indoors since 2007 under the Health Act 2006, e-cigarettes are acceptable in public places. This is because e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco, they heat and vaporise liquid that contains nicotine and therefore do not emit any smoke. Whilst it is not illegal to smoke e-cigarettes indoors or in public places, it is still down to the company or organisation if they choose to ban them. This works the same way as banning alcohol, hot drinks or eating as part of workplace policy.
Health and Safety
It has been found by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies commissioned by Public Health England that “e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than cigarettes” (2014). Whilst these results certainly prove e-cigarettes pose a reduced risk to smokers than cigarettes, and are advised as a lower risk alternative, it must be understood they are still harmful.
It must also be reminded that e-cigarettes require regular electronic charging. For smokers who smoke at high frequency, they would be required to charge their e-cigarettes throughout the day and this could mean at the workplace. Any electronic appliance poses a fire hazard, particularly unattended charging points such as this. It is strongly advised to only use the supplied charger and never leave the device charging overnight.
Do e-cigarettes help people give up?
Employers may choose to provided dedicated e-smoking areas that are separate from cigarette smoking areas to encourage a shift in lifestyle to a lower risk alternative. This is a recommended suggestion to implement on-site and at the office.
For those who do smoke cigarettes it does reduce their exposure to such high levels of toxins and can also lead them to eventually quitting entirely. However, it must be recognised that e-cigarettes can also pose as an ‘acceptable’ alternative to smoking, leading to increased levels of smoking breaks as well as encouraging non-smokers to take up the unhealthy habit. It can also act as a convenient and accessible method of topping up nicotine levels between being able to smoke cigarettes in places such as the workplace.
Whatever the organisation’s view on smoking is, it should be clearly stated in the workplace policy for all to understand without confusion. A paragraph within a drugs and alcohol policy is a suitable place for this detail.
Health and safety at work. August 2016