A Cigarette by Any Other Name...
While tobacco, and specifically cigarette, use is down, the use of electronic cigarettes is gaining popularity. An "e-cigarette," as they are commonly known, is a battery-powered vaporizer that simulates tobacco smoking, though it contains no tobacco. However, usually the vaporized liquid does contain nicotine. This rise in popularity, combined with the ambiguity of whether an e-cigarette should be allowed or restricted like a tobacco cigarette, is causing employers to take a hard look at updating their current workplace smoking policies. A person who uses an e-cigarette is said to be "vaping" rather than "smoking."
Regardless of what an employer decides to do about e-cigarettes, a clearly written policy is vital to fostering solid employee relations. The employer should take into account the pros and cons of allowing vaping in the workplace and possibly even surveying employees to determine whether there is a strong opinion one way or the other on the issue. An article in Employee Benefit News (ebn.benefitnews.com) lists the primary issues that an employer must face:
- What are the current state and local laws regarding e-cigarettes in the workplace?
- Should e-cigarettes be banned completely?
- Should e-cigarettes be allowed in traditional smoking areas?
- Should e-cigarettes be allowed in certain approved areas outside of the regular smoking areas?
- Should e-cigarettes be allowed everywhere inside the workplace?
If the last bullet point is decided, will the employer need to have a policy in place to protect workers from coming into contact with second-hand vapors? E-cigarettes are usually considered "safer" than traditional tobacco cigarettes, but that doesn't mean that they're completely safe. Furthermore, while health effects are still being studied, individuals who have severe allergies or respiratory conditions or skin sensitivities may be able to show that exposures to this vapor causes them to have serious reactions. There are potential ramifications for allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace and reasonable accommodations should be considered and offered to employees who complain about exposure to the vapor.