E-cigarettes in the workplace: A cigarette by any other name?

While opponents of e-cigarettes continue to debate the affects of the vapor and the chemicals in the liquid vaporized to produce the vapor, a new twist involving e-cigarettes is developing. Employers Beware! It may be time to develop and implement an employee policy banning the use of e-cigarettes during working hours. BLR and Jay Starkman give us a glimpse of the evolving subject in this article.

smoking e-cigarette

In our lifetime we have seen many states ban smoking in public and/or indoor locations. Only until now has the debate about smoking included what is considered smoking for purposes of the law. The recent development of electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) is changing the smoking landscape and is creating a new issue for employers to consider.

E-cigarettes are battery powered and tobacco-free, vaporizing a liquid nicotine solution that users inhale and then puff out. This produces an odorless water vapor that appears similar to the smoke exhaled by “traditional” smokers. The vapor is, in many ways, the crux of the e-cigarette debate. Advocates say that the vapor (and the chemicals in the liquid vaporized to produce it) is harmless, while opponents argue it is too soon to know the long term effects.

To date, 3 states—New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah—have expanded their workplace smoking bans to include e-cigarettes, and multiple municipalities (including Seattle, Boston, and New York City) have followed suit. Employers who are not subject to these expanded smoking bans should decide whether to expand their own smoking policies to include e-cigarettes.

While there aren’t any studies correlating second-hand vapor and health problems, some of the country’s largest employers are expanding their no-smoking policies to include e-cigarettes. Their reasoning includes that e-cigarettes in the workplace are disruptive and may cause anxiety to co-workers about the impact of second-hand vapors on their health.

An extension of the e-cigarettes debate involves using e-cigarettes to smoke marijuana. When “smoked” using an e-cigarette, the vapor does not have the identifiable odor typically associated with marijuana use. Obviously, this makes detection (and discipline) considerably more difficult, and is another motivating factor for some employers to ban the use of e-cigarettes.

Even in states which have recently legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, employers may prohibit use at work, which is yet another reason to address the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace.

With the debate over the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace continuing to evolve, employers need to monitor their state and local legislatures for regulations governing the use of e-cigarettes. A conservative strategy of extending any ban (or restriction) on smoking to include e-cigarettes may ensure compliance with municipal regulations while limiting workplace disruption and productivity losses. Of course, any change in company policy regarding e-cigarette usage should be clearly communicated to all employees.

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