When was the last time you updated your worksite wellness policy? Does it only include smoking? Or all tobacco use? What about electronic cigarettes?
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, are different from traditional cigarettes because they deliver nicotine as an aerosol for inhalation, also called vaping, while cigarettes include the combustion of tobacco.[i] Despite the buzz that e-cigs might be a healthier alternative to smoking, the downstream effects of their use remain unclear. As quickly as these products have hit the market and been embraced by consumers, research is still underway to uncover the long-term effects of these products. This creates a unique set of challenges for employers trying to address tobacco use in the workplace.
Currently, 38 states have laws in effect for certain types of establishments to be 100% smoke-free. In North Carolina, restaurants and bars must be smoke-free; but in other states, like Florida and Ohio, workplaces and state-regulated gambling facilities are also required to be smoke-free.[ii] In recent years, businesses and municipalities started to evolve their tobacco policies from being simply “smoke-free” to include all forms of tobacco use.
Some universities and employers that have been “smoke-free” or “tobacco-free” for years have now added “vape-free” to their list of rights. Approximately 96% of the universities and colleges that are 100% tobacco-free also prohibit the use of e-cigs on campus.[iii] And this trend goes beyond the college campus. Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, along with Target, and Home Depot, have also banned e-cigs from their offices and stores.[iv] Here in North Carolina, Asheville and Waynesville have even joined the ranks of many others in the country to ban e-cigs city-wide, including city buses, parks, greenways, sidewalks, parking lots, city vehicles, and other city-owned spaces owned. [v]
If you are considering including e-cigs in your tobacco policy, start with evaluating your existing policy. If you don’t have one, consider drafting one with help from your legal counsel and human resources department. And, if your existing policy hasn’t been updated in five or more years, it’s time for a makeover. Federal, state and local laws regarding tobacco policy changes and new research are published often and might impact what you include. If nothing else, the addition of things like the e-cig to the market might mean it’s time to rethink your existing policy.
If your worksite is already tobacco-free, consider including e-cigs as part of your policy
Prohibiting traditional cigarettes but allowing e-cigs can create additional problems for both you and your employees. From far away, many e-cigs look similar to cigarettes so it will be difficult for you to monitor and enforce your policy. For your employees, it could lead to general confusion or frustration – I’m not allowed to smoke, but I’m allowed to vape? Although using e-cigs may be safer than traditional cigarettes, you want to avoid appearing to encourage either.
Consider including e-cig users in your tobacco cessation program
Many e-cig users are former smokers hoping to avoid relapse[vi] and will still benefit from tobacco cessation programs.
Ensure your policy is being enforced as it was intended
And if it’s not, consider a rewrite. How does your policy define a “smoker”? Does your policy state that your company does not hire nicotine users? Someone using an e-cig isn’t technically smoking and some e-cigs don’t contain nicotine. Be sure that your policy is written so that it can be clearly interpreted.
If your workplace isn’t 100% tobacco-free today, consider taking a few initial steps before completely eliminating e-cigs
If you currently have a designated smoking area at your worksite, the first step is to set up a designated vaping area separate from the smoking area. Many people who use e-cigs are former smokers and being around smokers may tempt them to start smoking again. This will also remove them from exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke.[vii]
Whether you choose to include e-cigs in your tobacco policy or not is a decision that should be made by you and your leadership. Employees should be given advance notice of any policy change – at least 3 months is a safe bet. And, if you choose to include e-cigs or not, be sure to provide your employees with educational material and supportive resources to help them on their journey to become tobacco free.