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.
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.)

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