With the rising use of e-cigarettes—also called vaping—many HR managers and benefit consultants are playing catch-up to answer questions like: Are e-cigs as harmful as other tobacco products? Should these be handled in a no smoking policy at work?
The issue can be complex, but we do have some answers to guide you.
Why include e-cigarettes in a no smoking policy
To help address these questions, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report examined over 800 peer-reviewed studies and compiled their findings.
This report summarized what is known about the health risks and benefits of e-cigarettes. It also determined the strength of evidence for each of the conclusions.
For example, the report found conclusive evidence that secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes poses risks. E-cigarette use increases airborne concentrations of particulate matter and nicotine in indoor environments. The report explains that because low levels of particulate matter can have health risks, vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women may be at risk.
By including vaping in your workplace policy, you protect all employees from exposure to harmful particulate emissions.
Another reason to include e-cigarettes in your policy is there are documented cases of e-cigarette devices exploding, causing burns and projectile injuries to the user. Banning e-cigarette devices eliminates the risk posed by malfunctions at the workplace.
And lastly, including e-cigarettes in your no smoking policy creates a supportive environment for quitting.
Some adults find e-cigarettes helpful to quit tobacco. The NASEM report found there is conclusive evidence that completely substituting e-cigarettes for cigarettes reduces a user’s exposure to deadly toxins and chemicals in cigarette smoke.
However, we know few vapers use e-cigarettes exclusively; nearly 60% of e-cigarettes users also smoke cigarettes. If any of them try to quit using combusted cigarettes, they may prolong or intensify their addiction by using e-cigarettes at work. By eliminating the possibility of continuing to use e-cigarettes at work, you increase the likelihood that smokers can quit, and stay quit.
4 tips to handle vaping in the workplace
Ready to include vaping in your tobacco-free policy? Here 4 tips to get you started:
- Make your workplace policy comprehensive
Start by ensuring that your no-smoking-at-work policy prevents exposure to secondhand smoke for all your employees, whether they work indoors or outdoors. Surprisingly, even now, while some worksites have been smoke-free for decades, others still subject workers to deadly secondhand smoke.
A 2019 report showed 20% of indoor workers in the U.S. are not yet covered by a 100% smoke-free policy. Certain industries, such as construction and transportation, are less likely to have a workplace smoking policy. Adopting a campus-wide smoke-free policy or expanding your indoor policy to include outdoor areas as well, goes a long way to protecting the health of all employees.
- Know your state and local laws
E-cigarettes are regulated at state and local levels, and it’s helpful to know where your state and municipality might stand. Check out the American Nonsmokers’ Right Foundation maps for a useful, clickable map and detailed information specific to your company’s location.
- Handle smoking and vaping consistently
Your policy should be clearly written and understandable, articulating the same terms for enforcement for e-cigarette users and other types of tobacco users as for cigarette smokers. Again, the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation has valuable resources, including a model policy that’s easy to follow.
- Provide access to quit support
In combination with your tobacco-free policy, be sure to offer easy-to-use cessation support for all tobacco users, including e-cigarette users. A policy change can be an effective nudge to quit, and employees need to know there is tailored support available to help them.
Finding the right resource
E-cig users need tailored support that includes information specific to the product they use, the triggers they face, and insight about their specific circumstances.
Even if your organization has few e-cig users—that you know about—it’s possible employees’ spouses or dependents may need assistance with this type of nicotine addiction. Offering services that benefit a whole family can be invaluable for making employees feel supported.
The EX Program, for example, offers personalized support to each e-cigarette user and parent of a vaper.
Developed in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, the EX Program gives e-cigarette users access to 1:1 live chat coaching, 24/7 social support through on online community, text messaging support, and more.