Wednesday June 12 2013

Employers need to be pro-active when it comes to e-cigarettes

Employers need to be pro-active when it comes to e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are rapidly becoming the replacement of choice for traditional smoking. For the first time since anti-smoking legislation was passed, people can be found puffing away in on public transport, in restaurants and, crucially, at work.


E-cigarettes heat and vaporise a liquid which users inhale, providing a nicotine hit as well as ‚smoke‚ to exhale. The similarity doesn‚t stop there, with most products designed to resemble a cigarette down to the glowing end when ‚smoked‚.


For users, the advantages are obvious: the 2006 Health Act defines smoking as involving ‚lit tobacco‚, which means e-cigarettes fall outside of the restrictions applied to traditional methods.


This leaves employers in a quandary when it comes to allowing e-cigarettes at work. The safety of e-cigarettes has not been proven, and while there is equally no proof that they harm the health of the user or even passively, there have been instances of the device‚s battery overheating. Overall, bosses must consider the health, safety and comfort of the people around the e-smoker.


Because many employers don‚t have a specific smoking policy, the 2006 Health Act generally acts as a default. This means that unless businesses establish and communicate clear rules to their employees with regards to e-cigarettes, they cannot rely on standard legislation as justification for banning these products in the workplace.


The argument against banning e-cigarettes is that they are considered a nicotine replacement therapy similar to patches or gum. However, traditional therapies are designed to help people stop smoking, not to be used as a substitute alone, and many workplaces ban gum for food-hygiene reasons whether it contains nicotine or not. A better option is the patch, which provides discrete nicotine therapy without drawing any attention to the user.


The key aspect to consider is perception. If the workforce sees someone smoking what appears to be a real cigarette, this will cause a certain amount of discomfort regardless of whether it turns out to be an imitation. The problem employers must face is that smoking is generally frowned upon. By allowing e-cigarettes to be exempt from the company‚s smoking policy, there is a danger of appearing to condone a practice that upsets the majority of employees. At the very least they will be complicit in the confusion that can be caused by not being clear in their smoking policy.


Many companies allow staff to smoke during their break times in the designated area and there is no reason why e-cigarettes cannot be used in the same manner. For workplaces that ban smoking on their premises including outdoor spaces, it makes sense to ban the e-cigarette too.


Employers have a right to set down the rules that apply to their workplace. As long as this has been communicated to the staff and the consequences of breaching these rules are clearly understood by all, there can be no excuse for confusion. 


For more help and information on the subjects covered in this article, please contact Pam Rogerson, , employment law consultant at the Employment Law Advisory Service on 0161 785 2000.


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