The law passed in 2007 prohibiting smoking in enclosed public environments created a dramatic shift in the public’s attitude to ‘lighting up’. Not seeing people smoke indoors in public anymore is now considered the new ‘social norm’ but it might not seem obvious that e-cigarettes do not follow the same rules as ordinary cigarettes. In fact, as they are not covered by the same legislation, there is nothing official to prevent smoking e-cigarettes in public places.

But what does this mean for the workplace?

Currently there is no obligation on employers to permit or prohibit smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace; it is entirely at the discretion of the employer to consider what effect it will have on its business. Employers may therefore opt to set an allotted time and area where the use of e-cigarettes is allowed or alternatively, not allow the smoking of e-cigarettes in the workplace at all.

It therefore falls to employers to put in place policies which clearly set out the parameters of what is and is not acceptable in terms of smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace.

At the moment there is nothing to say that the vapour from e-cigarettes is not harmful as the content within them varies significantly. In the event that smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace is permitted then it is open to non-smoking employees to complain that it is not fair for them to be breathing in potentially toxic fumes whilst at work.

There are other questions concerning recent news about faulty chargers and battery powered versions of e-cigarettes, even USB charged e-cigarettes having the potential to breach IT policies in the work place.

A number of employers, notably in the food and beverage industry, have already opted to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in their establishments for both staff and customers, adopting the stance that smoking e-cigarettes is still classed as smoking in an enclosed area.

So with the varying opinions on the issue of e-cigarettes open to employers and the limited information available about the potential harm that the vapours they give off may cause, it seems that employers should carefully consider what steps they take with regard to their own policies/procedures in respect of e-cigarettes.

Tell us your views; has this issue affected your company? Has your organisation opted to permit/prohibit smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace?

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