To vape or not to vape, that is the question

Stoptober is in full flow and many employees are in the throes of putting their willpower to the ultimate test. Growing numbers of people trying to quit smoking will turn to e-cigarettes to help them. But for many HR professionals, e-cigarettes in the workplace present a difficult challenge. Should you treat them in the same way as traditional cigarettes or put in place different rules for their use?

Smoking indoors at work premises and other enclosed spaces in England became unlawful on 1 July 2007. As e-cigarettes fall outside the scope of current smoke-free legislation, it’s down to an individual employer’s discretion as to whether or not you choose to allow employees to use e-cigarettes or ‘vape’ in the workplace.

In recent years, vaping has grown in popularity and traditional smoking is at an all-time low. But as the effects of e-cigarettes remain unclear, should they be allowed in the workplace?

On the one hand, you may wish to support smokers in your employ who are looking to switch to e-cigarettes in order to cut down or give up smoking altogether. Some medical professionals certainly believe that they have an important role to play in supporting people who are trying to kick the habit. There’s also an argument that if you send your e-smokers out with other smokers within your business, they run the risk of starting up again.

But, at the same time, while e-cigarettes are widely recognised as being less harmful than conventional cigarettes, the vapour they emit contains nicotine and other toxic particles. If you allow e-cigarettes, do you put non-smokers in your workforce at risk of second-hand vapour? And does it give the impression to your employees, customers and visitors that it’s acceptable to smoke?

Getting the balance right is certainly hard. As HR professionals, I believe we have a duty of care to safeguard all our employees but at the same time, we should be supportive of those who want to cut down or give up smoking in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.

Whatever your view on e-cigarettes, it’s essential to have a policy in place to deal with it. You cannot rely on current smoking legislation or your existing smoking rules to control the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace.

Be clear on your company stance and get a written policy in place. Tell your staff what is and is not allowed and communicate it properly. Don’t forget that any smoke-free policy, whether it extends to e-cigarettes or not, should apply to staff of all levels and to third parties such as customers, visitors and contractors.

As there’s still insufficient evidence to support the safety of long-term use of e-cigarettes or how effective they actually are in helping smokers quit traditional cigarettes, I expect the e-cigarette debate to rumble on for some time yet. In the meantime, a well considered e-cigarette policy is a must.


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