In 2006, Arizonans made their voices heard by passing the Smoke-Free Act, which prohibits smoking tobacco products in places of employment, but where do electronic cigarettes and “vaping” — the act of inhaling water vapor through a personal vaporizer or electronic cigarette — fit into the equation?
In the past 8 years e-cigarettes have become nearly an $8 billion industry. As vaping increases, so do the conversations about workplace policy. Many companies have adopted a vaping policy that echoes language in the Arizona’s Smoke-Free Act. However, it is potentially problematic because the Smoke-Free Act prohibits the use of lighted tobacco products and the statue does not address electronic cigarettes. The American Lung Association has expressed concerns about e-cigarettes after a 2009 Food and Drug Administration study found they released toxic cancer-causing chemicals. However, the FDA has yet to release rules on the e-cigarettes. With no firm federal and sates guidelines, companies are in limbo in terms of workplace policies regarding vaping.
John Egbert, a labor and employment attorney with Jennings, Strauss & Salmon,said the question is whether vaping legally fits into the already established law. Even though the federal government is still working on its policy, the situation is still fluid and employers need to decide how to handle the increase in the number of e-cigarette users before legal complication arise.
“Employers should consider revising their existing smoking polices to address the new issues associated with e-cigarettes in the workplace,” said Pavneet Singh Uppal, regional managing partner at Fisher & Phillip.
It benefits the employer to take a position while the government figures it out, experts said. When revising a smoking policy, companies need to address whether e-cigarettes are allowed in the workplace, in separate areas, in certain social situations and the grievance process or ramifications when the rules are broken and infringed upon.
“Because the exact effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown, it is best to err on the side of caution and designate a specific area where e-cigarettes are allowed, but is separate from traditional smoking areas,” Uppal said.
Many of the possible negatives of vaping are widely known — like air quality concerns and concerns about the amount of pollutants in the vapor. “But even though we all know that smoking is bad for you, employers should take time to understand how e-cigarettes work and that they may have some benefits,” Uppal said.
Gregory Conley, an attorney and president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit organization established primarily for the purpose of positive media advocacy regarding vaping and e-cigarettes, believes “permitting vaping in the workplace, or even just setting up areas in the office where vaping in permitted, can foster a healthier workplace by providing great incentive for smokers to quit.”
Advocates to fostering a work environment that permits vaping believe productivity could increase among vapers. Smokers often spend time not working on a “smoke break,” while vapers could be allowed to remain at their desk. Due to the lack of smoke, e-cigarettes have been marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. Additionally, a vaping office could serve as a more congenial atmosphere because e-cigarettes do not have a distinctive odor that is unpleasant to non-smokers.
“If vaping is better than smoking, getting smoking employers to vape is a step in the right direction,” Egbert said.