Wednesday 19 August 2015 2:38 pm

Ecigarettes in the workplace: After Public Health England finds vaping 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco, is it time to review policy?

After years of uncertainty surrounding the health implications of ‘vaping’, a report from Public Health England has revealed ecigarettes to be 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco.
This evidence should prompt employers to conduct an immediate review of company policy surrounding ecigarette use in the workplace. In the absence of any definitive legislation, it is up to individual firms to decide where and when ‘vaping’ is permitted.
Although most companies already enforce an e-cigarette policy, these guidelines should be formally stated as part of health and safety guidelines, the parameters of which are shared with staff and clearly communicated. This will avoid any uncertainty or confusion within the workforce and prevent any resulting conflict.
Failing to clearly outline an ecigarette policy will leave employees in a state of limbo and exposes employers to a situation where staff are making up their own minds.
Businesses that opt to allow ‘vaping’ within the office space should, where possible, consult employees to ascertain whether any staff members are in opposition of doing so. 
E-cigarettes are available in a range of different brands, flavours and sizes, often dispelling large clouds of vapour and prominent odours when in use. This may be considered irritating or distracting by other employees. If this is the case, firms may choose to set aside a designated ecigarette zone or vaping room within a certain area of the office.
While creating a designated ‘vaping’ room may be considered an effective solution, allowing this concession on the grounds that it will improve the health of employees by helping them to stop smoking, could prove to be a slippery slope. If ecigarette smokers are permitted space, who is to say that yoga enthusiasts shouldn’t be allowed an area in which to exercise?
Firms that decide against permitting ‘vaping’ in the workplace, must still consider the wider implications of Public Health England’s findings. The report unequivocally states that e-cigarettes are vastly less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, therefore, businesses should move to accommodate the ability of former smokers to lead a healthier lifestyle.
As such, it may be considered unhelpful to insist that smokers and ‘vapers’ share the same smoking area, as ‘vapers’ will be subject to harmful second hand cigarette smoke. Where possible, firms should move to provide e-cigarette smokers with a separate outside space away from tobacco users.
The release of additional information regarding the health effects of ecigarettes is a positive step for employers looking to make an informed decision regarding their use in the workplace. 
However, for some this decision may soon be taken out of their hands; the Welsh Government has previously expressed its intent to ban e-cigarettes in all enclosed spaces. For firms with offices in England and Wales, this legislation will likely prompt a blanket ban across all sites, forming a consistent company-wide policy which is easier to enforce.