Electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”) are battery-powered products that release a visible vapour containing liquid nicotine that is inhaled by the user. They fall outside the scope of the smoke-free legislation therefore employers are not compelled to ban their use indoors, however it is becoming clear that it is essential for employers to decide what their stance is on the use of these products, and make it clear to staff and visitors alike.
Users of e-cigarettes may argue that employers should be supportive of anything which helps employees give up smoking, and that this support should extend to allowing free use of e-cigarettes at work. They may also suggest that if no alternative provision is made, it is forcing the e-cigarette smokers to go outside, probably to the same place smokers of normal cigarettes go, which isn’t helpful to those using e-cigarettes to quit or reduce smoking.
Unrestricted use in the workplace can normalise smoking behaviour however, and although the workplace doesn’t usually involve impressionable children and teenagers, it doesn’t give a good impression to visitors or customers, especially as some of them look very like real cigarettes.
As yet we just don’t know about the effects on health, and the vapour (even if not actually harmful to colleagues), may well be irritating, particularly in a tightly packed working environment. The British Medical Association has recommended that the smoking ban is extended to e-cigarettes due to the lack of evidence about the health risks to the individuals using them and to those in close proximity.
Another factor to consider is the productivity of those using e-cigarettes. You can’t really work properly and smoke at the same time, and while employers can and do limit outside breaks from work (during which a normal cigarette can be smoked) to avoid too much impact on productivity as well as perceived unfairness on those staff who don’t smoke and therefore don’t take smoking breaks, if employees are allowed unrestricted use of e-cigarettes at their desk, you can’t control how often they do it and may well see a decline in productivity accordingly. Many people who have switched to e-cigarettes smoke far more of these than they did normal cigarettes, and also some people use them as supplementary to normal cigarettes.
We are finding that many organisations are taking a bit of a firm line on it, and are extending their ban on cigarettes to include e-cigarettes too, usually including this within a smoking policy. If you are considering doing the same, our recommendation would be to ban use at desks when people should be working, but if at all possible, not force people using them to stand outside with smokers, instead either providing another dedicated place if possible and if there is the demand.
If you want further advice on the use of e-cigarettes in your business, do get in touch.