E-cigarettes in the workplace prove a problem for human resources

29 Sep

Should employers ban e-cigarettes from the workplace?

Electronic cigarettes are now a common sight. From bars and clubs to restaurants and stores, you can see some people puffing clouds of vapor from the electric sticks. But allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace is a major issue for businesses and their human resources systems

Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist invented the e-cigarette in 2003 as a way to get himself to quit smoking but it never took, according to The Guardian. And vape pens and other styles of the device are taking off in popularity with their use tripling from 2013 to 2014 among teenagers and doubling for adults from 2010 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The electronic sticks are, so far, not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, the government agency could take action on them in the future, USA Today reported. 

Vaping in the workplace
E-cigarettes allow a smoker to drop a liquid containing nicotine into the device and then he or she can inhale it in the form of vapors. Many contend that electronic smokes are just as harmful to health as regular cigarettes even if the product isn't burning like normal rolling papers. According to NBC News, people who vape take shorter puffs and don't inhale as deeply as those smoking the real thing. Also, unlike regular tobacco products, the long-term health effects of electronic cigarette use still isn't known. 

Some large companies such as Starbucks, UPS and Wal-Mart banned e-cigarettes from their workplaces, according to The Society for Human Resource Management, while other businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach since the full effects including breathing in secondhand vapor isn't known.

Clear regulations
However, some human resource publications advise offices to take action and ban all styles of electronic smoking to create clear-cut policies. If an employer forbids smoking standard paper and tobacco cigarettes while on the job, why would they allow vaping? 

"If you just ban smoking or tobacco products, you haven't covered e-cigarettes," Russell Chapman, an attorney with employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson P.C., told the SHRM . "You need to specifically ban them if you want them covered."

Allowing one but not the other creates ambiguity in a workplace environment, Human Resource Executive Online noted. It's better to be safe than sorry since there's still no empirical data regarding the safety of e-cigarettes. 

"The important thing is to have a clearly written policy consistently enforced across the board," Elizabeth Leitzinger, an attorney with Fenton and Keller in Monterey, California, told the SHRM.

According to Leitzinger and others, it makes more sense to outright ban vapes and other forms of e-cigarettes from the office as some of the devices are made to look like the real thing – having a white cylindrical stick with a light that glows when the user puffs on it.

Advocates for vaping in the workplace said the device can actually help employees who smoke regularly because they'll no longer need to leave the office to take a puff and can do so at their desks while working. Therefore, using an e-cigarette could increase productivity for smokers and also help them quit real tobacco products. However, their argument doesn't hold weight since there's no evidence to prove that the devices do either, Inside Counsel reported.

Since the speed of technology development outpaces governing bodies such as the FDA, use of e-cigarettes in the office will inevitably fall on the shoulders of managers and human resource departments. Whatever a company's decision may be, the SHRM noted business leaders should seek out the advice of their counsel before implementing any policy changes.

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