Back in 2010, a fascinating piece of research from Policy Exchange found that smoking breaks at work alone was costing the British economy £2.9billion per year. Loss of productivity from early death due to smoking also cost UK Plc £4.1 billion. On the flip side of this, Public Health England announced this week that smoking rates in England have fallen to their lowest rate since records began. Experts say the decrease may be partly thanks to the availability of e-cigarettes and the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace.
Whilst this fall will inevitably help employers in the workplace and employee health in the short and long term, it does raise interesting questions about the role that e-cigarettes play in the workplace. It is in the interests of employers to to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace. Healthy, happy and well-motivated employees are less likely to be affected by stress and absence, and more likely to contribute positively to the performance and productivity of an organisation. But allowing the use of e-cigs within the workplace risks upsetting the rest of your workforce.
Smoking is the country’s number one killer, causing nearly 78,000 deaths each year in England. While the long-term effect of e-cigarettes is unknown, and they are not completely risk-free, the current evidence indicates that they are significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco and are helping smokers to quit. Organisations need to consider the comfort of all colleagues, smokers, non-smokers and vapers, and show consideration when creating their vaping policies.
Here is the HP guide for HR Professionals and Health & Safety teams when considering the issue of e-cigarettes in the workplace:
For those interested in workplace risk
- E-cigarettes have not been formally tested yet, so despite early indications that they are safe (ish) this is not yet established and in the UK they are not licensed to be prescribed for smokers.
- E-cigarettes DO contain nicotine.
- Nicotine is highly addictive.
- E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco.
- The vapour given off is not dangerous to others.
- E-cigarettes are likely to be licensed and regulated for medical use in due course
- Concerns have been raised that e-cigarettes are a route into full smoking for children and young adults and therefore should not be promoted
For staff who are managing teams
- Although e-cigarettes contain nicotine, there is no burning and only odourless steam is produced (It is though possible to buy nicotine free e-cigarettes).
- Concerns have been raised that e-cigarettes ‘normalise’ smoking after years of legislation that has sought to make it less acceptable.
- Some call smoking e-cigarettes ‘vaping.’
- Current views on smoking in public places are very strong therefore if you allow smoking of e-cigarettes in the workplace, this might become an employee relations problem (even if it is not a legal issue).
For those drawing up workplace policies and procedures
- Staff have no legal right to take e-cigarette breaks.
- Staff have no right to smoke e-cigarettes in work if you choose to ban them.
- If you choose to allow them, be prepared to deal with some staff who object and we would advise issuing information about why they are not considered harmful to others.
- If you want to ban them, you can adapt your existing smoking policy normally very easily if you want to extend the definition of smoking to include the use of e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers.
- Be clear about whether your ban extends to home working, company vehicles etc.
- Be clear about whether you need to look at any drugs policy you have as clearly employees could attend work with liquid nicotine in the form of refills for their e-cigarette devices.
Smokers across the country are being urged to take part in Stoptober (the mass quitting challenge from Public Health England (PHE) starting on 1 October) and join nearly 15 million people who have already quit. In 2015, just over a million people (1,027,000) used an e-cigarette in the workplace and at home in a quit attempt while around 700,000 used a licensed nicotine replacement product such as patches or gum.