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THE USE OF E-CIGARETTES IN THE WORKPLACE

With the rapidly increasing use and prevalence of e-cigarettes throughout society at the moment, employers need to assess the impact, if any, to your workplace if any of your employees bring their e-cigarettes into your place of work.

E-cigarettes are an electronic device that can be used as a substitute for cigarettes. They are used by many people as an aid to cutting down or quitting cigarette use and they work by providing a clear liquid vapour containing nicotine which is inhaled.

Although e-cigarettes contain nicotine, as they do not contain any lit tobacco they are not technically covered by the current smoking ban. The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) has been carrying out some research into them and is due to publish its findings soon alongside its views on reclassifying e-cigarettes as medicines. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has also been asked by the Department of Health to develop public health guidance on the use of smoking cessation products such as e-cigarettes.

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The British Medical Association (BMA) wants the smoking ban extended to cover the vapour from e-cigarettes and companies to prohibit the use of them in the workplace. One of their concerns is the lack of any data showing the impact on the health of users or of those nearby who might inhale the vapour.

As these are not currently covered by the smoking ban it is up to you to decide whether or not to cover e-cigarettes in your smoking policy. Potentially they are useful in helping your employees reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke and may help keep them more focused on work instead of any nicotine craving. However, the use of e-cigarettes could also cause potential problems.

The vapour from these devices looks like smoke and it can cause confusion about where smoking is allowed or even if your company is complying with the smoking ban or not. It can also make it harder to address any apparent breaches of the smoking ban in company vehicles when employees can claim that they were not using a real cigarette at the time.

As the long term impact of these devices are not known you run the risk of storing up trouble for the future if you allow them and they are later found to be harmful to the user or others exposed to second hand (passive) vapour, including any pregnant employees and their unborn children. Given the lack of information available on the impacts of these devices it may be safer to treat them in the same way as normal cigarettes.

Health and safety policies work most effectively when they are clear and simple to understand. Your employees already know the policy in relation to normal cigarettes so expanding the policy will mean that there is no confusion.

Whatever you decide about the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace you need to set out this position clearly within your policy. If you are going to ban them alongside normal cigarettes then your policy needs to say that specifically.

If you have any designated smoking areas then your employees will be able to use e-cigarettes there just as they would normal cigarettes. Make it clear that the use of e-cigarettes in any other area will be treated in the same way as smoking normal cigarettes.

Of course issues relating to e-cigarettes aren’t just restricted to how your smoking policy should be written up or enforced – there is also the potential fire hazards that they may bring into your workplace.  

Three times in as many weeks e-cigarettes have exploded while on charge, sometimes causing serious injury and sometimes causing a fire to start.  In fact, fire-fighters say that battery powered e-cigarettes have caused at least one fatality due to a blaze started by one toward the end of last year.  

E-cigarettes convert liquid nicotine into a mist, or vapour, that the user inhales.  The two main types have either a replaceable cartridge or require refillable liquid, but there are many different brands, all with their own specific charger.

Firefighters say the most common cause of fire appears to be either using incorrect chargers or over-tightening the screwed connection to the rechargeable battery resulting in mechanical damage.

You should consider reviewing your policy on how you manage portable electrical equipment.  There are real concerns out there regarding the quality of chargers being supplied with e-cigarettes and indeed the use of incorrect chargers.  

ecigblog2Another danger is caused by “over charging” as unlike most mobile phones, many lithium-ion batteries within e-cigarettes do not have any protection to stop the coil overheating, which can lead to the battery exploding.

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