Should employers allow employees to use e-cigarettes in the workplace?
Electronic cigarettes ("e-cigarettes") release a visible vapour that contains liquid nicotine that is inhaled by the user. E-cigarettes fall outside the scope of the smoke-free legislation. Section 1 of the Health Act 2006 defines "smoking" as "smoking tobacco or anything which contains tobacco, or smoking any other substance", and states that "smoking includes being in possession of lit tobacco or of anything lit which contains tobacco, or being in possession of any other lit substance in a form in which it could be smoked". Therefore, employers can choose to allow employees to use e-cigarettes in the workplace.
In November 2014, the British Medical Association (BMA) published a briefing on e-cigarettes, which set out its belief that e-cigarette use should be prohibited in public places where smoking is prohibited. It has since softened its position and in a 2017 paper, E-cigarettes: Balancing risks and opportunities, stated that "current evidence indicates that exposure to e-cigarette vapour does not pose specific health risks - unlike exposure to second-hand smoke". It recommends that organisations should take a pragmatic approach, but that there is a wide range of public spaces, such as public transport and schools, where use of e-cigarettes should be restricted.
In July 2016, Public Health England (PHE) published Use of e-cigarettes in public places and workplaces: advice to inform evidence-based policy making. The advice, which is based on an independent evidence review, states that vaping is around 95% safer for users than smoking. It also states that "there is no evidence of harm to bystanders from exposure to e-cigarette vapour and the risks to their health are likely to be extremely low".
PHE states that e-cigarettes have significant potential to help reduce tobacco use. It recommends that e-cigarettes should not be routinely included in organisations' smoke-free policies and that vapers should not be required to use the same outdoor space as smokers.
While some employers may allow employees to use e-cigarettes in the workplace, or even encourage their use as an aid to giving up smoking, others will prefer to ban them, particularly taking into account the impression created among visitors, customers or clients.