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Does Your Employer Have an E-Cigarette Policy?

Posted by on January 31, 2014 . 0 Comments.

Long gone are the days when you were allowed to smoke in the workplace at your work station.  You may not even remember when it was allowed.  For most of you working in offices or other indoor environments, the ash tray on the desk, the conference table or in the lunch room disappeared before you were born, never to be seen again unless you happen to be employed in one of the very few indoor workplace environments that still allow smoking.


Today, there are very strict company policies – most of them required by law – restricting the where and when of your lighting-up.  In most cases, it requires a walk from your work station to an outdoor smoking patio.  In three seasons, this is not a problem other than the loss of productivity; a fact that plagues most companies with regard to their relatively few employees who maintain a tobacco habit.  But during the winter; while you are fighting a habit you may want to quit, you may be assisted by the frigid weather to make you wonder if lighting up is really worth the hassle.


As a further complication to maintain their tobacco habit, many employees now face higher health insurance premiums just because of their habit.  Along with the disappearance of smoking in the workplace, gone are the days of any argument whether tobacco smoking is harmful to your health.


Never mind that for most tobacco smokers, it is an addiction, but it was a matter of personal choice to start smoking.  The answer to the higher premium is simply to quit smoking if it has not already presented the common associated diseases: emphysema, cancer and heart disease.  But most smokers wanting to quit will admit it is easier said than done. 


But as with other technologies that have changed the work place, the invention of e-cigarettes in 2003 presents a challenge to employers whose employees have either quit tobacco smoking in favor of e-cigarettes, or non-smokers who have decided to give e-cigarettes a vaping trial.


To date, most companies have erred on the side of caution if they have developed a company policy at all (and many have not) with regard to vaping.  Some proponents claim it is as benign as breathing.  A sideline consideration proposes that even the employee who brings his flu to work presents an occupational hazard.  And some opponents say vaping is just as injurious as smoking, but these claims can be challenged.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently researching the matter and is slated to issue recommendations on vaping.  In the meantime, some employers have issued a variety of policy decisions with regard to vaping.  Some bundle it together with tobacco smoking; vapers must go to designated smoking areas with tobacco smokers.  This is a difficult consequence for vapers who are trying or have quit tobacco smoking in favor of e-cigarettes; they still fall victim to both the temptation as well as exposure to second-hand smoke.


Other employers take a less severe stand with regard to vaping and actually allow it in the workplace at employee desks and in lunch rooms as long as nearby non-vaping employees do not object.   As a compromise, some employers recognize that while vaping does exhale something, they also recognize that whatever it is, it is nothing as irritating and potentially harmful as secondhand tobacco smoke.  They designate indoor vaping rooms.


So far, only three states have issued smoking bans in the workplace that include e-cigarettes.


Here are the tobacco smoke-exhaling facts by the numbers, according to a study by the University of Minnesota in 2003:


-       85 percent of tobacco smoke is emitted directly from the burning cigarette, meaning that…

-       15 percent of tobacco smoke is inhaled by the smoker, and

-       10 percent of what is inhaled by the smoker is exhaled, therefore

-       1.5 percent of tobacco smoke is exhaled as secondhand smoke, and therefore

-       86.5 percent of tobacco smoke is secondhand smoke, of which 10 percent is tar and nicotine.


Based on the above numbers, assuming that the total volume of inhaled tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapor are equivalent, consider the following:

-       0 percent of vapor is emitted into the air directly from an e-cigarette (this is fact, not merely an assumption because vapor emits from a e-cigarette only when inhalation creates movement of air across the atomizer), therefore

-       100% of e-cigarette vapor is inhaled by the user, and

-       10% is exhaled by the user and is, therefore, secondhand vapor, and

-       0% of e-cigarette vapor contains tar.


If your employer does not have a distinguishing policy with regard to e-cigarettes that separates vaping from the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke, perhaps there are some ideas that you and your vaping compatriots might suggest based on the above analysis.  With that being said it is important to understand the distinction between occupational exposure protection against involuntary and unwanted exposure, and potential occupational exposure intentionally chosen by employees to accept.


1.     E-cigarette vapor exposes others to much less secondhand vapor than equivalent tobacco smoke.  A policy to combine tobacco smokers and e-cigarette vapers together ought to be revised accordingly.


2.     A study of the chemistry of e-cigarette liquid (that is atomized and inhaled by the vaper, and subsequently exposed to others in the workplace by exhaling) by Drexel University in 2013 concluded that all potential occupational exposure of products in exhaled vapor present very low levels (no greater than five percent and most less than one percent) of Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) of concern to occupational health and safety.  This study ought to be reviewed by employers.


3.     If the employer levies an added insurance premium on tobacco-smoking employees and has summarily included e-cigarette vapers to this at-risk group, those vapers who, by choice, avoid e-cigarettes containing nicotine compounds ought to be deleted from the at-risk added premium group.


Employers may be skeptical to allow these suggestions as policy factors, but as with any other debated request, if the question is never asked, the answer will always be “No.” 

Last update: January 31, 2014


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