Monday, March 31, 2014

Are tobacco-free employers prohibiting e-cigs?

Yesterday I was asked what are policy is on e-cigarettes. Hmmm, I should have anticipated that question, but I had not even contemplated it. ASHA has been a smoke-free workplace for many years. When we moved to our current office in 2007, we expended the prohibition to become a smoke-free property. I guess now it's time for us to choose a stance on vaping in the office.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
The use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or e-cigs) is on the rise. They were first introduced in China in 2004. E-cigarettes are not currently subject to FDA limitations because they're not considered drug or medical devices. The FDA announced that it would issue proposed rules in November 2013, but they have not been released yet. Most agree that e-cigarettes seem to be safer than combustible ones, but the health impact of inhaling nicotine mixed with food-grade vapors is not yet known. There have been no conclusive studies to date. 

I understand The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, The Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, and the American Lung Association all recommend that smoke-free laws and policies prohibit the use of e-cigarettes. 29 states and the District of Columbia prohibit smoking in the workplace, but most polices do not specifically address e-cigarettes. Chicago is banning the use of e-cigs in enclosed public places and enclosed places of employment in the city effective April 29, 2014. New York City has extended a similar ban and a few states have now included e-cigarettes in their indoor smoking regulations.  Smoking prohibitions in airplanes also apply to e-cigarettes. However, there are school districts that ban yoga pants and chewing gum, but not e-cigarettes. (Leaving parents like Maggie McGary shacking their heads.) 

Employers are really just starting to address the issue, so there's not a lot of benchmark data available yet. I did see the results of a BLR HR poll that showed
"half of respondents (50 percent) say that their organization has not addressed e-cigarettes in their smoking policy—and close to a third of respondents (31 percent) say they haven’t thought about it yet!"
I'm recommending that ASHA ban the use of e-cigarettes in the office. Anything less just feels like a step backwards. I'm also recommending that we expand our current smoke-free policy to a tobacco-free policy. I'm not sure why we went with smoke-free rather than tobacco-free to begin with, but my theory is that it just never came up. You don't see many people chewing tobacco in the Washington, DC metro area and it's never been an issue for us.
4/1/14
It's official, ASHA is now a tobacco and e-cig free property. Our new policy reads "The ASHA National Office is a tobacco-free property. Use of all tobacco products and electronic cigarettes is prohibited on our grounds." (No fooling.)

5 comments:

Maggie McGary said...

Hm, interesting question for the workplace. For schools, I definitely think banning is a must, because even if e-cigs themselves aren't dangerous (which we don't yet know), nicotine is addictive and having schools be encouraging teens to develop a life-time addiction which probably paves the way for actual cigarette use at some point just seems wrong. Like you said, yoga pants=not ok yet devices that look like cigarettes and are drug delivery devices=ok just doesn't make sense to me. Not to mention it's distracting to have kids blowing smoke rings in class...which my daughter reports to me is happening in school, and the teachers just don't address or say stuff like "do you really think that's a good idea?" before moving on.

I could see banning e-cigs in the workplace/workspace for the distraction reason as well as it making an uncomfortable work environment for co-workers who are either trying to quit smoking or who are sensitive to fragrances, chemicals, etc. Then again, with some people reporting that they help people quit smoking, would there be potential trouble banning what could possibly be construed as a medication/treatment? This is why I'm not an HR person...too many questions! I would think, though, that banning inside the workplace but maybe allowing in outdoor areas might be ok? Tough question, but I think a good one to be considering...maybe MCPS will take the hint!

Paul Hebert said...

This is an interesting situation. Full disclosure. Lifelong smoker - then an e-cig smoker - now nothing due to cancer. But the ecig did help me kick the real habit and reduce the need for the "bad" ones so it can work for cessation.

For ecigs - no fragrance, no smell. Really. Simple water vapor (or so it is currently reported - some non-repeatable studies have indicated some other trace chemicals.)

But - assuming they find that e-cigs do NOT contribute in any real way to health issues other than the addictive quality of nicotine and they are banned on that reason - then I would imagine caffeine laden drinks would have to go for the same logic?

Just thinking outloud.

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Janet McNichol said...

Maggie and Paul, you both raise good questions. Since we're already a smoke free property, people people using e-cigs to stop smoking seems like less of an issue for us. The few smokers we have left on staff are adamant that they have no intent of giving it up anyway. I figure at least they're logging more steps walking off the property to smoke than the rest of us.

As more studies are done, I'll remain open to reconsidering our position on e-cigs. If they are found to cause no harm, then I'd have trouble banning them. Where would we go from there? Would be ban coffee, sodas and chewing gum? (I'm not giving up my coffee ;-)

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