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Mark Emery

E-cigarettes in the workplace – no smoke without fire, or is there?

The use of e-cigarettes has been a hot topic recently, with a polarised debate in the media and elsewhere about their health benefits and acceptability. Increasingly they are impacting on the workplace, so what considerations do employers need to take into account?

E-cigarettes are battery operated devices that mimic smoking by producing vapour and releasing nicotine. As e-cigarettes do not fall within current anti-smoking laws, the use of them in the workplace does not break the law. Many employees feel able to ‘light up’ at work, including in company vehicles without breaching any policy. But should you allow it? There are several issues to consider:

Firstly, the health and safety of employees. There is no conclusive medical opinion on the safety of e-cigarettes, but clearly using one while driving or operating machinery is a health and safety risk. While the vapour may not be carcinogenic, other employees may find their use off-putting or unpleasant, particularly if they are trying to quit themselves.

Employers may also consider that the use of e-cigarettes creates an unprofessional environment at work – for employees and customers or clients.

But on the other hand, allowing the use of e-cigarettes could support employees in their attempts to quit smoking and potentially increase productivity by avoiding the need for employees to take breaks.

A ban on e-cigarettes inside the office could mean that e-cigarette users may have to share the designated smoking areas with smokers. Being exposed to tobacco smoke could hinder their efforts to quit smoking and pose health risks.

Whatever the decision, you should:

  • Have a clear policy on e-cigarette use either by incorporating it into your smoking policy or having a separate policy
  • Make sure that the policy is brought to the attention of all employees – consulting with any recognised union or elected representatives in the first instance
  • If e-cigarette use is banned, you should decide how to deal with smoking/e-cigarette breaks, and
  • Explain in your policies that failure to comply with them can lead to disciplinary action.

Mark Emery is an employment specialist working with businesses, charities and individuals, providing advice on all HR and employment-related issues and acting on behalf of employers and individuals if disputes reach tribunal or court. Contact him on 01865 268 663.