E-cigarettes are an electronic device that can be used as a substitute for cigarettes. They are used by many as an aid to cutting down or quitting cigarette use. They work by providing a clear liquid vapour containing nicotine which is inhaled.

Although e-cigarettes contain nicotine as they do not contain any lit tobacco they are not technically covered by the current smoking ban. The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) has been carrying out some research into them and is due to publish its findings soon alongside its views on reclassifying e-cigarettes as medicines. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has also been asked by the Department of Health to develop public health guidance on the use of smoking cessation products such as e-cigarettes.

The British Medical Association (BMA) wants the smoking ban extended to cover the vapour from e-cigarettes and companies to prohibit the use of them in the workplace. One of their concerns is the lack of any data showing the impact on the health of users or of those nearby who inhale the vapour.

As these are not currently covered by the smoking ban it is up to you to decide whether or not to cover e-cigarettes in your smoking policy. Potentially they are useful in helping your employees reduce the number of cigarettes and may help keep them more focussed on work instead of any nicotine craving. However, the use of e-cigarettes could also cause potential problems.

The vapour from these devices looks like smoke and it can cause confusion about where smoking is allowed or even if your company is complying with the smoking ban. It can also make it harder to address any apparent breaches of the smoking ban in company vehicles when employees can claim that they were not using a real cigarette at the time.

As the long term impact of these devices are not known you run the risk of storing up trouble for the future if you allow them and they are later found to be harmful to the user or others exposed to second hand vapour, including any pregnant employees and their unborn children. Given the lack of information available on the impacts of these devices it may be safer to treat them the same way as normal cigarettes.

Policies work most effectively when they are clear and simple to understand. Your employees already know the policy in relation to normal cigarettes so expanding the policy will mean that there is no confusion.

Whatever you decide about the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace you need to set the position out clearly within your policy. If you are going to ban them alongside normal cigarettes then your policy needs to say that specifically.

If you have any designated smoking areas then your employees will be able to use e-cigarettes there just as they would normal cigarettes. Make it clear that the use of e-cigarettes in any other area will be treated in the same way as smoking normal cigarettes.

If you are inclined to allow the use of e-cigarettes then your policy needs to set out what restrictions, if any, you want to place on where they can be used and the frequency.

Whatever you decide, this needs to be fully communicated to your employees and your policy should clearly set out the consequences of breaching the company rules. Your employees need to fully understand that any breach of the smoking ban will be taken through the disciplinary procedure and the severity with which it is viewed.

By Ellen Singer

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