The New Rise of Smoking: E-Cigarettes in the Workplace
In the early 2000s, plenty of experts predicted smoking’s imminent demise, as all the signs pointed toward the end of cigarettes. However, smoking regained prominence in the public eye when e-cigarettes were introduced to U.S. smokers at the end of the last decade. The e-cigarette industry, which includes everything from one-hitter disposable units to complex rigs to unique customized modifications to myriad flavors, has grown drastically in the past few years to become a $2 billion industry, and many experts expect e-cigarettes to surpass traditional tobacco cigarettes within the next decade.
Governments around the country are dragging their feet in passing regulations on e-cigarettes, and the FDA is struggling to pass an opinion on the devices with the limited research available regarding health effects. In the meantime, many corporations aren’t sure what to do with employees who want to vape in and around workplaces.
Everyone — even smokers of 50 years — know how terrible tobacco cigarettes are for the body, but no one knows exactly what effects e-cigarettes can have on vapers and those around them. However, as e-cigarettes gain popularity, researchers are receiving more funding to study their components and their effects on vapers as well as second-hand vapers. While the results trickle in, this is what is currently known for certain regarding the health of e-cigs.
The ingredients in e-juice (also known as e-liquid, or the fluid in e-cigs that is heated and inhaled) can be myriad depending on the producer, but the main components are generally the same across the board: nicotine, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin.
While some studies have linked nicotine ingestion with increased risk of heart disease, these studies largely utilize data from tobacco smokers instead of vapers. In any case, e-juice tends to include drastically lower amounts of nicotine than cigarettes, and many vapers have transitioned to e-cigs as a means of quitting smoking and nicotine altogether.
Propylene glycol is an agent that helps the e-juice transition to vapor for inhalation. While the name looks distressing, this is actually a common ingredient in plenty of foods and medicines (like toothpaste and cough syrups) as well as in the fog created by fog machines at concerts or plays. The FDA has long considered this ingredient safe for consumption. The FDA has also asserted the safety of vegetable glycerin.
Some e-juices have been shown to produce harmful chemicals once the liquid is heated to vapor, but it is noteworthy that the amounts of these chemicals can range from nine to 450 times lower than they are in traditional cigarettes. Generally, scientists believe the amount of toxic chemicals emitted by e-cig vapor isn’t enough to cause concern.
Only a small handful of states have attempted to regulate the sale and use of e-cigarettes. While no states have any type of outright ban, many have simply amended previous tobacco laws to include e-cigarettes, meaning e-cigs cannot be purchased or used by minors, and e-cigs cannot be used in public spaces. While states drag their feet, many localities have enacted harsher restrictions, disallowing citizens from vaping in enclosed areas like restaurants and workspaces. Meanwhile, everywhere else vapers are puffing away wherever they desire.
Additionally, among companies who don’t operate in cities with strict regulations, policies vary wildly. For example, Walmart restricts smokers to designated areas outside the store, while Starbucks forbids its employees from smoking of any kind within 25 feet of any doors. Further, CVS and corporate-owned McDonald’s have an outright ban on all smoking anywhere, and on top of a complete smoking ban on the premises or in trucks, UPS requires its smoking employees — and vaping employees — to pay an additional $150 in insurance premiums to cover potential health care costs.
How to Proceed
It seems most prudent to err on the side of caution and ban e-cigarettes alongside cigarettes — but this could inspire claims of discrimination among vaping employees. Plus, there are other downsides to forbidding e-cigs in the office. For one, many employees demonstrate noticeable increases in productivity when they are allowed to indulge in their nicotine habit, which has an obvious positive impact on the company at large. For another, as mentioned previously, some smokers transition to e-cigs to stop smoking for good. Separating a quitting smoker from his or her cessation tool is asking for a relapse, and forcing your employee to go back to tobacco products is not only immoral but opens companies up to colossal health care costs in the future.
While you craft your policy on e-cigarettes, it’s best to make sure you’re complying with labor laws and governmental regulations and keeping the health of all your employees in mind. A PEO is an invaluable tool for keeping track of the ever-changing legalities of e-cigarettes, which most business managers and executives don’t have time to monitor. Keep your company healthy by keeping your employees happy — which may mean different policies regarding the use of e-cigarettes.