The next big change to your employee policies may need to come from the latest smoking cessation fad: the use of electronic cigarettes.
Chances are, if they haven’t arrived already, they’re coming to your workplace … soon.
So now’s the time to consider your organization’s position on the devices and whether or not they can be used on the job, inside your facility and/or around co-workers.
For those unfamiliar with e-cigarettes, here’s how they work: The device, which looks just like a regular cigarette, uses a battery-powered cartridge to heat a liquid nicotine solution into a vapor. Users then inhale that vapor to get a dose of nicotine. They then exhale the vapor, which is nearly invisible as it leaves the body. Usually the vapor is odorless, but it may produce a mild scent if a flavored nicotine solution is used.
The pros of the devices
The devices have become a popular tobacco cessation device. Proponents and manufacturers of the devices assert that, unlike regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes have no proven health risks. In addition, they say the vapors do not disturb others the way second-hand smoke does.
As far as employer benefits go, there are two big ones … maybe:
- Proponents claim e-cigarettes eliminate the need for productivity-killing “smoke” breaks (because they say the vapor they produce is innocuous), and
- Getting health plan participants to quit smoking may pay big dividends down the road via lower insurance premiums.
The cons of the devices
As promising as all of that sounds, there’s a big problem many have with the devices: They are virtually unregulated and untested.
E-cigarettes have not received approval by the Food and Drug Administration to be used as a tobacco cessation device, and the National Business Group on Health claims e-cigarette solutions contain known carcinogens and toxic chemicals, and are manufactured using inconsistent or non-existent quality control processes.
And as the popularity of these devices grows, so does the uproar from opponents upset about the unregulated nature of them.
What does this mean for employers?
This leaves employers at a crossroads. Since the devices contain no tobacco, they will not be covered by any tobacco-usage policies your organization currently has in place. As a result, you’ll soon be forced to decide whether or not to let these devices into your work spaces and whether to allow users to take “vaporing” breaks.
Since some can create an order, it may be wise to — at the very least — put an e-cigarette policy in place that mirrors any rules you have around the usage of colognes and perfumes in the workplace. If you currently ban the usage of anything that produces a noxious odor — to protect those with sensitivity to smells — you may want to incorporate e-cigarettes into that policy.
But that still leaves the door open for employees to use them on the job — as long as workers use odorless solutions.
So if you’re nervous about how your employees will react to them, you may be better off banning their usage in non-smoking areas altogether — at least until they’re proven safe.
One organization that has already banned the use of e-cigarettes is the U.S. Department of Transportation. The devices are not allowed to be used on airplanes.