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How should employers deal with e-cigarettes in the workplace?

The announcement that electronic cigarettes are to be licensed as a medicine in the UK from 2016 is a response to concern about the lack of regulation surrounding them. Unlike tobacco products, e-cigarettes - devices that vaporise a nicotine solution to replicate smoking without the use of tobacco - are not covered by the Health Act 2006, which prohibits conventional smoking from the workplace. For now, it's therefore up to employers to decide on an appropriate policy for their use in the workplace. What should they consider when forming a policy?

It's in the interests of employers to do their bit 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.

Supportive employers may be able to provide help and advice for employees who want to quit smoking. But should this include allowing the use of e-cigarettes? They are sometimes marketed as a safer way to 'smoke' without the harmful effects of tobacco that could help people kick the habit.

Some experts have questioned the safety of chemicals used in e-cigarettes, and the British Medical Association (BMA) says that more research is needed to establish the effectiveness and safety of the devices as a nicotine-replacement therapy.

Employers may want to consider whether such devices are likely to upset other workers, particularly if they are pregnant or trying to give up smoking themselves - or whether it's in keeping with the professional image of an organisation, especially if clients or members of public are likely to come into the office.

Since the smoking ban came in, it's broadly recognised that smoking is now associated with break times rather than work time. Employers may be reluctant to allow e-cigarettes into a working environment and prefer them to be treated in exactly the same way as conventional cigarettes. There's also a risk that e-cigarettes might undermine efforts to reduce smoking by normalising cigarette use at work.

Acas offers advice on how to improve health, work and wellbeing in your organisation and has published the pdf  Advisory booklet - Health Work and Wellbeing [603kb]. Acas also runs practical training courses on Stress management and how to promote Health, work and wellbeing in the workplace.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions page for more information.

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