Vaping at work: e-cigarettes and non-smoking policies.

As the smoking of electronic cigarettes, known as “vaping”, continues to increase in popularity, employers should make sure they set out clear policies in order to deal with the issue in the workplace.

A survey conducted in 2013 by YouGov for the anti-tobacco charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), concluded that more than 2.1 million people in the UK now smoke e-cigarettes, representing a three-fold increase compared with the previous estimated figure of 700,000. Globally, it is projected that annual sales of e-cigarettes will reach $10 billion within a few years.

However, despite the increasing popularity of the devices, opinion is divided over whether e-cigarettes offer a healthy alternative to conventional smoking or whether in fact they are an unsafe, poorly-regulated fad.

The law

The law on conventional smoking in workplaces in the UK is clear. In terms of the Health Act 2006, the smoking of normal cigarettes is banned in enclosed or substantially enclosed public places, including workplaces.However, e-cigarettes fall outside of the legal definition set out by the Health Act 2006 and are not covered by the legal ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces. Therefore, it is up to individual employers to take action and set out a policy on the subject.

Authorities around the world take a widely varying approach to e-cigarettes. While the City of San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to ban e-cigarettes, treating them like combustible cigarettes, an e-cigarette coffee shop opened in Shoreditch High Street in east London in March 2014. Here, vapers can buy and smoke their e-cigarettes in a public place without breaking the law, despite the smoking ban having been in place for seven years.

Formulating a vaping policy

Acas recently published limited guidance on the subject of e-cigarettes, pointing out that since the devices fall outside the scope of smoke-free legislation, employers can choose whether to allow employees to smoke them at work or not. However, Acas warns that whatever the policy, employers should be clear about the rules.

Employers therefore need to decide whether to allow employees to smoke e-cigarettes in the workplace or ban them as they would ordinary smoking implements.

Acas makes the point that e-cigarettes are often used as an aid to stop smoking, so employers should carefully consider the implications for their own organisations when deciding what to do about e-cigarettes within their workplace. However, the conciliation body also urges employers to consider the effects on other members of staff as the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown, and having e-cigarette vapours in the workplace may create an unpleasant environment.

Acas suggests employers could include a paragraph about e-cigarettes in the existing policy document on smoking, drugs and alcohol, following consultation on the new rules with employees and their representatives.

Furthermore, Acas advises that if smoking e-cigarettes is allowed at work, line managers should be aware of who may be smoking them within their teams.

The Acas guidance on vaping says, “It is best to make it a rule that line management approval is needed to smoke e-cigarettes in the workplace.”

Employers may want to put up signs or notices in the workplace which make it clear where smoking is allowed (if this is the case) and where it is banned, including rules for cigarette smokers and rules for e-cigarette smokers.

Although smoking is forbidden within workplace premises, organisations can still make certain areas available at work to be smoking areas. However, the practicalities of e-cigarettes may be challenging for employers; the TUC supports the idea that separate areas should be made available for users of e-cigarettes away from any outside smoking area. Hugh Robertson said, “If a worker is using electronic cigarettes to help them give up smoking tobacco then it is not going to help forcing them to go outside in the same area as smokers.”

 If you need advice on updating your policy on this, then we can help

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