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What's Your Policy on E-Cigarettes in the Workplace?

Sept. 25, 2013
Many (if not most) offices and manufacturing plants in the United States ban cigarette smoking inside their facilities.

Here in Ohio, it's been the law since November 2006, when voters approved a ballot initiative banning smoking in any enclosures where there are employees. Although smoking already was prohibited in the office where I work, the ballot initiative prompted our building owners to implement a policy requiring smokers to stand 30 feet away from the building entrances. (A few of our smokers comply with this.)

Many (if not most) offices and manufacturing plants in the United States ban cigarette smoking inside their facilities.

Here in Ohio, it's been the law since November 2006, when voters approved a ballot initiative banning smoking in any enclosures where there are employees. Although smoking already was prohibited in the office where I work, the ballot initiative prompted our building owners to implement a policy requiring smokers to stand 30 feet away from the building entrances. (A few of our smokers comply with this.)

In a manufacturing facility, smoking isn't just a health issue – it's a major safety concern. It's just not sensible to have people lighting up in close proximity to chemicals and materials that are flammable or combustible. Consequently, it seems that most factories have no-smoking policies, or at least have designated smoking areas. Some even subsidize smoking-cessation programs.

And that brings me to e-cigarettes.

A Healthier Alternative?

E-cigarettes – short for electronic cigarettes – are battery-operated devices that are designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals through a vapor that is inhaled by the user.

If you've never seen an e-cigarette, the concept is simple. The device has a battery and a heating element. "When activated, the heating element boils a small amount of liquid in the device, creating a vapor, which is then inhaled by the user," ProVape Inc. explains on its website.

E-cigarette manufacturers tout these devices as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes.

ProVape, for example, notes that traditional cigarettes emit more than 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known carcinogenic compounds and 400 other toxins. By contrast, the liquid and vapor in ProVape's e-cigarette contains four main ingredients, according to the company: nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine and flavoring.

Sounds a lot healthier than huffing down a Marlboro, right?

Health Effects Unknown

Here's the problem: The FDA has not thoroughly studied "the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes," which means users "have no way of knowing whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use," according to the FDA's website.

Furthermore, users also have no way of knowing "how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use," the FDA says.

And then there's the issue of secondhand smoke. It's clear that inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke is a health hazard, especially in poorly ventilated areas. But what about inhaling secondhand e-cigarette vapor?

Gray Area

E-cigarette maker Blu Ecigs – recently acquired by tobacco giant Lorillard Inc. – notes that its device "produces an odorless vapor that disappears in several seconds, unlike cigarette smoke."

Consequently, Blu boasts that its e-cigarettes "can be smoked in bars, restaurants, planes (most international and private), offices and other places where normal smoking bans are in effect." However, the company's website also urges users to check with the location before using its product.

Considering the dearth of research on the potential health hazards of e-cigarettes, this emerging technology is in a bit of a gray area for regulators and employers. However, with sales of e-cigarettes soaring, it's an issue that employers soon will need to address – if they haven't already.

I'm curious: Has your workplace come up with a policy regulating the use of e-cigarettes? 

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