The rise in the popularity of electronic (e-) cigarettes has been met with mixed reactions within the UK. Whereas some people see this as a positive step in reducing or stopping smoking, others view this as the promotion of a more fashionable and glamorous way to smoke without legal restriction and with less known long-term health effects.
Whatever your personal view on the use of e-cigarettes, the current legal position holds that they do not strictly fall within the definition of the UK smoking ban as they expel vapour and although they often contain nicotine, they do not contain burning substances. So, if these are not actually against the (current) law, what are the issues which can emerge within the workplace and which it is worth considering and taking an employment policy stance upon?
Firstly, the extent to which they can promote smoking to a younger generation (whom the country is trying to prevent taking up any form of smoking) is presently being debated within the government and may be legislated for later this year. Thus, if you have a youthful workforce it may well be an issue for you.
Secondly, where do these e-smokers smoke? Should it be at their desk where they can smoke as much as they like without leaving the building to stand in the rain? On the plus side, this could raise productivity as it would lessen the need for extended smoking breaks which can cause ill-feeling amongst co-workers. However, not everyone will appreciate inhaling the caramel, whisky, mint or liquorice vapours which can be used and some employees may therefore raise complaints. So, as an alternative, should you perhaps allow e-smokers to take e-breaks and deal with them in exactly the same way as you would a traditional smoker? Possibly but e-smokers see themselves as different as they do not wish to share the tobacco air of the traditional smoker especially if they are trying to give up this form of smoking. Should you instead provide a separate e-smoking area (if you provide a traditional smoking zone at present) or ban their use entirely (if you currently prohibit ‘normal’ smoking from anywhere near your premises)?
Thirdly, are there any health and safety issues, such as the operating of machinery or driving of vehicles, which could arise from the use of e-cigarettes within your workforce? If so, it is worth considering these and ensuring that your current employment policies cover the use of e-cigarettes and that any restrictions are also added to your potential gross misconduct list within your disciplinary policy.
To sum up, the use of e-cigarettes is likely to continue for the foreseeable future and may be subject to future legislation. However, even if no laws emerge, there are already clear issues to deal with in the workplace. With the current grey position on these within most organisations, it therefore makes sense to consider the impact of these within your workplace and to implement appropriate guidance to employees on your stance on these.