Human resources professionals have to take the safety and well-being of all employees into account when composing business policies and procedures. Many companies provide health and wellness programs to employees or organize corporate outings that encourage physical activity and good mental health. However, with the emergence of new technologies, HR departments are finding their policies may need revamping.
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes gained popularity in the U.S. in 2007, and the devices still receive mixed reviews when it comes to risks, side effects and benefits, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The products, which are battery-operated and require no ignition, allow people to inhale aerosol versions of the addictive chemicals found in real cigarettes. The FDA reported it's unclear what amounts of nicotine and other chemicals are actually inhaled by users and how much is let out into the atmosphere.
Primarily, people began using e-cigarettes to quit smoking real tobacco. The Society for Human Resource Management reported between 2004 and 2011, industries with cigarette smokers varied, though construction, mining and accommodation accounted for 30 percent of all smoking employees in this timeframe. By 2013, about 30 percent of all smokers had tried e-cigarettes. The U.S. Center for Disease Control found between 2010 and 2013, the number of U.S. adults smoking e-cigarettes more than doubled.
The only e-cigarettes currently officially regulated by the FDA are therapeutic e-cigarettes. The FDA Center for Tobacco Products regulates only real cigarettes, rolling tobacco and smokeless tobacco, though its goal is to soon help regulate electronic versions as well.
Potentially harmful vapors and the office
When it comes to smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace, it gets a little tricky. Technically, electronic devices are not real cigarettes, but because side effects are unknown, it's best to establish a strict policy on whether e-cigarettes can be used indoors. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended completely banning e-cigarettes in the workplace.
"Employers have invested significant time and resources into developing effective workplace policies that help reduce the use of tobacco among employees and their families," Jerry Noyce, Health Enhancement Research Organization's president and CEO, told SHRM.
Noyce's organization contributed to publishing a paper entitled "Guidance to Employers in Integrating E-Cigarettes/Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems into Tobacco Worksite Policy" earlier this year. The report concluded businesses should consider e-cigarettes as part of the same category as tobacco products and until further review from the FDA, ban them from indoor use in offices.
However, since many smokers are using the e-cigarettes to quit their smoking habits, it's crucial employers offer electronic users their own designated smoking areas separate from traditional smokers. This is a huge step toward ensuring those employees trying to quit stay on the right path.
In maintaining compliance with the Affordable Care Act, HR departments cannot require smokers to quit. A valid choice would be to incorporate smoking cessation options into current wellness programs or practices. In addition, HR professionals should check their state regulations, as some states already ban e-cigarettes indoors.
Strategic human resources solutions to employee health issues are crucial to maintaining a healthy, productive work environment.