June 20, 2014

E-Cigs: smoking or non-smoking?

Smoking or non-smoking? Or maybe the more appropriate question to consider for the increasing popular use of “electronic cigarettes” would be: Are electronic cigarettes considered the same as smoking normal cigarettes?

An estimated 1.3 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes which were designed to help smokers quit.  Smoking rates have fallen to their lowest level ever and continue to fall in the UK.

The announcement that electronic cigarettes are to be licensed as a medicine in the UK from 2016 is a response to concern about the lack of regulation surrounding them. Unlike tobacco products, e-cigarettes – devices that vaporise a nicotine solution to replicate smoking without the use of tobacco – are not covered by the Health Act 2006, which prohibits conventional smoking from the workplace. [JW2] It’s therefore up to employers to decide on an appropriate policy for their use in the workplace. What should they consider when forming a policy?

Nicotine Substitution

Smoking is the largest, preventable cause of premature morality in the UK.  The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has developed guidance on a harm reduction approach to smoking, which supports the use of licensed products as [JW3] aid to cutting down or quitting smoking and as a substitute for smoking.

In 1976 Professor Michael Russell wrote: “People smoking for nicotine but they die from tar.”  Indeed the harm from smoking is caused primarily through toxins produced from burning tobacco.  By contrast, non-burnt pure nicotine products, although addictive, are considerably less harmful.  Electronic cigarettes consequently represent a safer alternative to cigarettes for smokers who are unable to stop using nicotine.

E-Cigarettes and the Workplace

It’s in the interests of employers to do their bit to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace. Healthy, happy and well-motivated employees are less likely to be affected by stress and absence, and more likely to contribute positively to the performance and productivity of an organisation.

Supportive employers may be able to provide help and advise[JW4]  employees who want to quit smoking. But should this include allowing the use of e-cigarettes? They are sometimes marketed as a safer way to ‘smoke’ without the harmful effects of tobacco that could help people kick the habit.

A further consideration for employers is whether using e-cigarettes in the workplace fits with the professional image of the organisation and, if permitted, could be seen to “normalise” smoking. Although there is uncertainty about the harmfulness of the vapour employees may, at the very least, find the vapour distracting.

Practical steps for employers

If you do decide to prevent employees from using e-cigarettes in the workplace then we recommend taking the following steps:

If you do not currently have a no-smoking policy or a drugs/alcohol policy then introduce such policies and include details of your approach to e-cigarettes in them.

Alternatively, amend any existing no-smoking policy to include details of your approach to e-cigarettes such as a provision expressly banning the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace, in company vehicles and at any client locations where your employees are working.

Clearly explain in your policies that failing to adhere to them may result in disciplinary action.

If you already provide a non-enclosed workplace area for conventional smokers then also consider providing a separate non-enclosed area for employees to use e-cigarettes.

Whatever you decide on e-cigarettes, it is advisable to provide employees with links to or information about the support available for employees wishing to give up smoking.

On a Final Note

Since the smoking ban came in, it’s broadly recognised that smoking is now associated with break times rather than work time. Employers may be reluctant to allow e-cigarettes into a working environment and prefer them to be treated in exactly the same way as conventional cigarettes. There’s also a risk that e-cigarettes might undermine efforts to reduce smoking by normalising cigarette use at work.

Further Advice

An ACAS guide to “How should employers deal with e-cigarettes in the workplace?” is available at:  http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4405

Our HR Advice Line is also on hand to provide support and advice on this topic. Our Advisors can be contacted on 0845 073 0240.

References:

ASH Briefing – March 2014

BBC News – Article dated January 2014

ACAS guide – How should employers deal with e-cigarettes in the workplace?

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