E-Cigarettes in the Workplace
E-cigarettes are all the rage right now. From current smokers who are trying to find a replacement for the dangerous side effects of tobacco cigarettes to non-smokers who are interested in a less harmful version of the smoking habit, E-cigarettes have started to enter into discussion in the workplace. This is new territory for managers and HR professionals, who are undoubtedly wondering about the role of E-cigarettes in the workplace. Here are some things for HR professionals and managers to keep in mind on this subject.
First of all, what are E-cigarettes? How do they differ from traditional cigarettes? Managers and HR professionals should have a basic understanding of E-cigarettes in order to understand this new wrench in workplace conduct and safety. E-cigarettes are battery operated and provide nicotine, often times with various flavorings. Instead of producing smoke, unlike traditional tobacco cigarettes, they produce vapor. E-cigarettes are advertised as a much safer form of smoking because they don’t produce the smoke that causes lung damage. They are even used indoors. This has added a new element to the discussion on smoking in the workplace. However, the research on E-cigarettes is still very new and not much is known about the real health risks associated with them.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), managers and HR professionals should err on the side of caution when it comes to E-cigarettes in the workplace. It’s not a bad idea to follow NIOSH’s advice on this subject since this federal agency is responsible for conducting research that helps prevent work-related illness and injury. However, they aren’t making this recommendation to HR professionals and managers because of new studies that reveal negative side effects from E-cigarettes. In fact, NIOSH states that data on E-cigarettes remains very limited. At this point there is no definitive answer on whether or not E-cigarettes cause harm. But NIOSH suggests that HR professionals and managers play it safe until more definitive data comes out about the health risks of E-cigarettes.
To help managers and HR professionals on this front, NIOSH has released a Current Intelligence Bulletin. The bulletin advises all workplaces to create policies that make all indoor facilities completely smoke-free. This includes bans on tobacco smoke as well as vapor from E-cigarettes. NOISH also suggests in its bulletin that HR professionals and managers make all indoor areas into smoke-free zones without exception, and extend the smoke-free zone to the areas immediately outside building entryways or air intakes. Additionally, NOISH recommends providing employees with information on the health risks of tobacco and the benefits of quitting smoking, including information on publicly accessible and employer provided quitting services.
Until more is known about their health risks, e-cigarettes should be treated with the same precautions as traditional cigarettes. Managers and HR professionals should stand their ground if employees try to make the case for healthy vapors and emphasize that e-cigarettes fall under the no-smoking rule but, if you allow smoking outdoors, employees can still use them in designated smoking areas.