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E-cigarettes may be a growing workplace concern
by Judy Kneiszel

The use of e-cigarettes, often called vaping, is a growing trend and likely to become an issue in your workplace if it hasn’t already.

Why is workplace vaping a growing concern?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2.8 percent of U.S. adults were e-cigarette smokers in 2017. However, CDC data also says 29.8 percent of U.S. high school students reported in 2018 that they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. In other words, a whole lot of your future employees may have a vaping habit, and if you don’t have a policy addressing e-cigarettes in the workplace now, you may want to create one.

But aren’t e-cigarettes good because they help people stop smoking?

While e-cigarettes are not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a quit-smoking aid, a major British study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January provides evidence that e-cigarettes are nearly twice as effective as nicotine gums and patches in helping smokers stop smoking. However, e-cigarettes may only help smokers quit if used as a complete substitute for all cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products and many people continue to use both products. 

Are e-cigarettes harmful, and is vaping less harmful than smoking?

The use of e-cigarettes is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke, according to research that is scheduled to be presented Feb. 6 at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference.

As for being less harmful than smoking, the answer is a big, “yes, but...” The National Cancer Institute (NCI) points out that e-cigarettes usually contain nicotine, the same thing that makes regular cigarettes addictive. The NCI also reports that e-cigarettes are harmful for youth, young adults, and pregnant women, and that while e-cigarettes typically have fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes, they may still contain heavy metals like lead, flavorings linked to lung disease, small particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, and cancer-causing chemicals.

Wouldn’t vaping eliminate the need to go outside to smoke and thus increase employee productivity?

While this is a possibility, allowing vaping in the workplace could create new issues. The Surgeon General warns that e-cigarette emissions can contain harmful chemicals, and being near someone using an e-cigarette can expose you to these emissions. This is similar to secondhand smoke from regular cigarettes.

Do e-cigarettes pose any dangers besides harmful emissions?

According to the CDC, defective e-cigarette batteries have caused fires and explosions, some of which have resulted in serious injuries. Most explosions happened when the e-cigarette batteries were being charged.

Do companies really need a vaping policy?

For some employers, simply adding language about e-cigarettes to an existing smoking policy may be sufficient. That works for extending a smoking ban to also ban vaping. If an employer is considering allowing workplace vaping, however, it may not be up to them. Many states—Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C.— prohibit vaping in places where smoking is banned. Other states ban vaping in specific places such as schools, child care facilities, and state government buildings. Some local municipalities have also banned e-cigarettes in enclosed workplaces; therefore, in some jurisdictions, allowing e-cigarette use in the workplace is unlawful.

Key to remember: Vaping raises new questions for employers. Revisit your smoking policy and decide whether to add language about e-cigarettes. Determining whether to allow vaping may depend on state and local law, as well as company culture.
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