Should vaping be allowed at work?
Vapers that use e-cigarettes at work have the potential to be healthier, happier and more productive. So should employers encourage them by allowing vaping in the workplace?
Or should vapers be more mindful of their colleagues?
As vaping gets more popular, the potential for conflict between vapers and non-vapers increases. This problem is made worse by the fact there is no set of universal written or unwritten rules around vaping etiquette.
Many states have enacted statewide smoking bans and the majority of employers have their own rules about smoking tobacco cigarettes in the workplace. But most of these rules don’t include vaping.
The law on vaping is different. About a dozen states, including New York and California, have implemented vape bans in workplaces and other public places.
In other states, certain localities have passed their own rules about vaping. But many employers are still free to decide whether to allow vaping at work.
Most vapers will be permitted to use designated smoking areas (except in special workplaces like schools and hospitals). But should vapers be given permission to smoke indoors or at their desks?
There are strong arguments on both sides.
The strongest argument against vaping at work centres on the potential for second-hand vaping.
A 2015 report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), recommends that all workplaces should be tobacco-free.
They include e-cigarettes in this recommendation “because of the limited data available on the safety of exposure to e-cigarette emissions”.
There is some doubt about the long-term impact of vaping on users health and the health of those around them. So the the ‘second hand vaping’ argument is compelling, particularly for employers who want to err on the side of caution.
A small study by Wolfgang Schober of the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority found evidence that vaping lowered indoor air qulality - increasing the concentration of nicotine, particulates PAHs and aluminium.
But NIOSH also recognises that employers should also “incorporate tobacco cessation support programs into more comprehensive approach” to improve worker health and well-being.
Smoking kills. The Center for Disease Control, of which NIOSH is a part, says that smoking “is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States”.
Tobacco smoking accounts for 480,000 deaths - one in five - each year.
Smoking levels have fallen from 20.9% of the population in 2005 to 15.5% in 2016. The reasons for this are complicated, but part of it is almost certainly to do with the growth in popularity of e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are regulated for safety and quality. Although they are not completely risk free, experts see them as safer than tobacco cigarettes.
In the UK, where authorities have started promoting e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking, Public Health England found that, based on the available evidence, vaping is around 95% less harmful than smoking.
The UK’s Royal College of Physicians came to a similar conclusion in its 2016 report 'Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction'.
A new report from the US National Academies of Sciences (NAS) also emphasises the harm reduction power of e-cigarettes compared to regular combustible cigarettes.
It says there is: “Conclusive evidence that completely substituting e-cigarettes for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes.”
There’s a growing list of evidence that e-cigarettes are safer than combustible tobacco cigarettes. So is there a moral case for employers to encourage their workers to use e-cigarettes instead of normal cigarettes. And should this include allowing vapers to use their devices inside?
Fear and smells
Vaping bugs some people. And it isn’t always clear why.
We’ve already said that vaping is still quite new. And social norms around vaping haven’t yet solidified into common rules.
There’s a lot of disinformation about e-cigarettes out there. In the media, vape products are often portrayed as harmful and dangerous, so it is little wonder that many people think that vaping is just as harmful as smoking.
Other people don’t like the giant clouds and sickly smells that vaping can produce.
This annoyance factor shouldn’t be ignored by vapers and employers, but it is not an insurmountable problem either.
Out of respect for co-workers, vapers could compromise by using a lower output device like a pod mod system.
These kinds of use lower output devices like pod mod systems or other mouth to lung devices. These systems don’t produce bigger clouds, but they can be used with higher nicotine e-liquid so the vaper can still feel satisfied.
Perhaps workers just need to talk to each other a little bit more. A lot of people don’t really get vaping and if it were explained earnestly, then maybe people would be more inclined to support co-workers as they attempt to give up tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes.
This can be a big one for employers and may be one of your biggest bargaining chips if you have to convince your boss to allow you to vape at your desk.
A 2014 study carried out by the the Centre for Economics and Business Research on behalf of the British Heart Foundation found that smoke breaks cost British businesses $14.5bn each year.
They found that the average full-time worker, who takes four ten minute cigarette breaks per day will cost a company around $2,500 every year in lost productivity. Add to this the extra healthcare costs and the cost of any days missed because of a smoking related illness and the business cost can really add up.
Allowing vapers to use e-cigarettes at their desks could boost company productivity as well as making a workforce happier and healthier - without having to endure freezing cold conditions for half of the year.
In states and localities where vaping at work is legal, employers should take the time to decide the relative merits and demerits of vaping in the workplace.
They should differentiate between tobacco smoking and vaping, while recognising that vaping in the workplace could expose colleges to irritants.
Each workplace will probably be different.
On some outdoor worksites, for example, vaping is going to be less controversial than vaping in a school or an office that’s shared with someone with a lung condition.
Employer should use their own judgement, recognising that many vapers use electronic cigarettes as an aid to give up tobacco cigarettes. Any support that employers can offer during this difficult time is always welcome.
Don’t underestimate the power of compromise.
Lower output devices like pod mod systems are likely to be less controversial than large box mods. It could even be as simple as opening up a new place for vapers to use that isn’t a smoking shelter. Staying away from smokers can be beneficial for verbs who are trying to ditch tobacco cigarettes.
Where practical, employers should consult with employees on the rules and whatever is decided should be clearly communicated in employee handbooks or on signs around the workplace.