E-cigarette Policies Within the Workplace

There are currently around 2.8 million e-cigarette users in the UK making it increasingly important for appropriate policies to be implemented within the workplace.

As workplace environments vary greatly, there is more than one approach to the use of e-cigarettes at work, but it is important that the policies implemented consider the following five principals according to Public Health England (PHE):

  • Make a clear distinction between vaping and smoking;
  • Ensure the policies take into consideration the evidence on health risks to bystanders;
  • Identify and manage risks of uptake by young people and children;
  • Support smokers to stop smoking and stay smoke free;
  • Support compliance with smoke free law and policies.

According to Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of health and wellbeing at PHE, there is clear evidence that vaping is much less harmful than smoking and the use of e-cigarettes is helping many smokers to quit. Consequently, by incorporating the use of e-cigarettes within the relevant policies at work, this enables organisations to assist employees in giving up the habit.

Evidence also shows that in contrast to the harm from second-hand smoke, the risks are extremely low and there is currently no evidence to suggest any second-hand e-cigarette vapour is harmful.

A recent case taken to the employment tribunal, Insley v Accent Catering, considered a claim by a school catering assistant who had been seen using an e-cigarette on school premises, for constructive dismissal. Due to the assistant resigning before disciplinary action was carried out, the tribunal dismissed her claim of constructive dismissal. However, they stated that without a resignation, the school’s policy would have been relevant to an unfair dismissal claim as it stated smoking was prohibited on the school’s premises but did not mention the use of e-cigarettes. Consequently, it is important that e-cigarettes are very clearly mentioned in organisations smoking policies, this can be by having the same or different rules for smoking and vaping.

Cancer Research UK have jointly published advice from the PHE due to the role e-cigarettes provide at reducing the harm caused by tobacco. George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco policy manger stated that e-cigarettes are still a relatively new product and therefore many employers may not know how to deal with them within the workplace.

Smoking causes nearly 78,000 deaths each year in England and although the long term effects of using e-cigarettes is unknown, the current research shows that they are significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco.

It is important that organisations consider all colleagues, smokers, non-smokers and vapers when creating their e-cigarette policies. Additionally, employers may also consider other benefits of using e-cigarettes in the workplace such as reduced fire risks.

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