Considering e-cigarettes in your workplace policies

Posted on written by Sam Barton

Public Health England (PHE) released new guidance on 6th July 2016 to help employers and businesses make informed decisions on when and how to include e-cigarettes in their workplace policies.

Health Risks

The health risks of smoking are well-known. In contrast, an independent review in 2015 found vaping to be 95% safer than smoking. Some people prefer to discourage vaping as they feel that there is not yet sufficient evidence to effectively analyse the risks. Some people feel e-cigarettes are much safer and their use should especially be encouraged among smokers as an aid to help them quit traditional cigarettes.

On one hand, PHE doesn’t want to be too prohibitive with their guidance; e-cigarettes do not fall under existing smoke-free legislation and they do not want to discourage the use of e-cigarettes by those who have quit smoking traditional cigarettes. On the other hand, PHE doesn’t want to be too permissive because they don’t want to encourage tobacco use in younger generations through e-cigarettes.

Employers Responsibility

PHE acknowledges that it is employers and businesses who must make the final decision on their policy, considering their staff, employers and type of business. PHE offers five guidelines to consider when making your e-cigarette policy:

  1. Make the distinction between smoking (traditional cigarettes) and vaping (e-cigarettes). You should not refer to smoking and vaping as the same thing; smoking is prohibited by law, whereas vaping is not. Smoking terminology should only be used when talking about cigarettes and vaping terminology should only be used when talking about e-cigarettes.
  2. Your policy should consider the health risks to bystanders. While vaping doesn’t emit second-hand smoke like smoking traditional cigarettes does, a small amount of vapour is released and this can create a risk. For example, vaping would not be advisable around those with lung conditions due to the risk to their health.
  3. Your policy should consider whether children and young people are on or near the premises. Like any age restricted product, e-cigarettes are best kept away from children. However, e-cigarettes are better than cigarettes so where staff and visitors may smoke, you could consider removing smoking areas in favour of vaping areas.
  4. Use your policy to support those who want to stop smoking. You should not make those who vape share the same area as those who smoke. Vaping should be made more convenient to do compared to smoking, to help those who want to quit smoking and stay smoke-free.
  5. Communicate your policy on both smoking and vaping. Allowing the use of e-cigarettes can help you support your smoke-free policy. Whatever you decide your policy should be, you should communicate it clearly. Don’t just include in your policy handbook; ensure proper signage is around the workplace for staff and visitors to refer to.

The use and safety of e-cigarettes is still a hotly debated topic. It is important to stay up to date with the latest research and guidelines in this emerging health and safety topic, and be prepared to modify your policy in line with new developments.

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