Starbucks has joined the list of organisations, which have outlawed the use of e-cigarettes on their premises.
Employers thinking of doing the same in their own workplaces need to consider a range of factors, including the prospect of some of these products eventually being regulated as medicines.
E-cigarette manufacturers promote the idea that using these products does not have the same harmful effects as conventional smoking, however these claims have come under scrutiny by employers and other bodies, most recently in a report by the World Health Organisation.
The report acknowledged that these devices are likely to be less harmful than conventional smoking but warned that their use may potentially increase the background air levels of nicotine and other substances which could be harmful to adolescents and pregnant women. The report also pointed out that e-cigarettes have not been subjected to many independent tests and that any impact on health arising from their use may not become obvious for some years.
The World Health Organisation’s recommendation for a legal ban on the indoor use of e-cigarettes is of particular significance to employers, as there is no clear evidence yet that exhaled vapour from e-cigarettes is not harmful to bystanders. However, some health experts have argued that any regulations must be proportionate.
The UK government will be required to transpose the European tobacco products directive into national law by May 2016. Under these new rules, some e-cigarettes (which may include those with strengths over 20mg/ml) will be regarded as ‘medicinal products’. Those that fall outside this definition will be subject to a number of regulatory controls.
Employers imposing a wholesale ban on using nicotine devices in the workplace may face complaints in the future from employees who have been prescribed them as medicine and must, therefore, be prepared to explain the reasoning behind the ban.
Employers should consider taking the following steps. They should:
- review and amend existing smoking policies or consider introducing a new policy to deal with smoking, including use of e-cigarettes. These products are not currently covered by UK legislation which bans smoking in public places and may also fall outside employers’ own policies. Employers need to be clear on their policy on the use of e-cigarettes before taking action against employees for misuse of these products.
- offer users of e-cigarettes a ‘vaping’ area that is separate from the one designated for conventional smoking if the organisation is imposing a wholesale ban on the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace. This will help to avoid undue damage to e-cigarette users’ health from harmful substances produced by conventional smoking.
- be vigilant over the discreet use of electronic tobacco-delivering devices in contravention.
If you would like any further advice please contact Louise Addison on 01302 341 344.