Most employers try to strike a balance between encouraging healthy habits on the part of their employees, and acting as a surrogate nanny. The question of whether or not to allow vaping at work can be a thorny one to tackle. “As sales of e-cigarettes surge, the devices have joined polarizing workplace aggravations like microwaved fish, loud ringtones and reply-to-all messages,” according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Several large employers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Starbucks, UPS and CVS, have banned in-house vaping. In some states (including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont) along with dozens of municipalities, the issue has been settled by state legislatures and city councils, which have banned the practice.
Even one San Francisco-based vaping products maker was recently forced to prohibit its employees from using the company’s own product at work. Many other states have less sweeping anti-vaping laws, such as banning it only in restaurants, bars and hotels.
What Supporters Say
Assuming you still have some discretion in the matter, here are the principal arguments made by proponents of vaping in the workplace. Among other things:
- Vaping isn’t nearly as offensive to non-vapers (or shouldn’t be) as cigarette smoke, therefore vapers’ personal freedom shouldn’t be restricted by a vaping ban.
- It can help boost vapers’ concentration and productivity.
- Vaping helps people wean themselves from the more harmful habit of smoking cigarettes.
- If employees can consume such products as nicotine-laced chewing gum at work, they should also be allowed to vape.
- If vapers who gave up smoking cigarettes are required to congregate with smokers outside when they vape, some may backslide and resume smoking.
What Opponents Say
Vaping-in-the-workplace opponents offer a few primary arguments. The first is that while it’s not as offensive as cigarette smoke, smells emanating from vaping devices waft around the workplace and are unpleasant to many non-vapers. Also, “some workers find vaping unsettling and disruptive, based simply on how vaping looks,” according to AllOneHealth (a Pennsylvania-based consulting company).
In addition, opponents claim that although smoking is more physically harmful than vaping, the latter is still unhealthy. Bolstering that argument is a report issued by the California Department of Public Health, entitled, “State Health Officer’s Report on E-Cigarettes: A Community Health Threat.”
Highlights of that report include the following:
- E-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive neurotoxin.
- E-cigarettes don’t emit water vapor, but a concoction of chemicals toxic to human cells in the form of an aerosol.
- Mainstream and secondhand e-cigarette aerosol has been found to contain at least 10 chemicals that are on California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.
The report also labeled as a myth the claim that e-cigarettes help smokers successfully quit traditional cigarettes. It states: “E-cigarette users are no more likely to quit than regular smokers, with one study finding 89% of e-cigarette users still using them one year later. Another study found that e-cigarette users are a third less likely to quit cigarettes.”
Some of these statements may be controversial, however, and not all are accepted by vaping proponents. Also, some of the strongest arguments about vaping pertain to the threat it poses to teenagers. Therefore, it may be more of a public health concern than a workplace policy question.
Link to Your Smoking Policy
If you consider both sides of the issue and decide to adopt a vaping ban at your workplace, be sure to implement it thoughtfully — as with any other policy decision.
You could start by reviewing your cigarette smoking policy and how it’s laid out in your employee handbook. You could take the approach of piggy-backing your anti-vaping policy onto your anti-smoking policy. Doing so allows you to highlight the connection between smoking and vaping, and to ensure consistency. For example, if you offer guidelines on smoking breaks and where they can occur, it makes sense to apply the same to vaping.
Take a comprehensive look at the ramifications of allowing vaping in your workplace. Collect whatever facts you can and weigh them carefully. You might want to get employee input into the issue. Chances are, there will be strong feelings one way or the other, and it could help your decision to know this upfront. Also, don’t forget to consider peripheral issues. For example, if you allow workplace vaping, you’ll need to address the proper disposal of the batteries used in vaping devices.
It’s important to think through how you’ll communicate your policy to your workforce. Be prepared to explain how you arrived at your decision. Not that you need to defend your choice, but if you can’t verbalize why you made the decision, some people may see it as random and may try to challenge it. Incorporate the policy into your employee handbook, then make it easy for employees to access the updated version of that document.