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E-cigarettes in the workplace

E-cigarettes, personal vaporizers (PVs), and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are battery operated devices that mimic tobacco smoking and are often used as a replacement for cigarettes. They produce a vapour, including flavoured aromas either with or without nicotine, rather than traditional smoke. Employers should decide whether to allow employees to smoke E-cigarettes, and similar products, in the workplace or ban them as they would ordinary smoking implements.

Key points

E-cigarettes fall outside the scope of smoke free legislation as the act of smoking requires a substance to be burnt, so employers can choose whether to allow employees to smoke them at work or not.

Advertising for E-cigarettes focuses on them being substitutes for cigarettes and often they are used as an aid to stop smoking, so employers should carefully consider the implications for their own organisations when deciding what to do about E-cigarettes within their workplace. However employers must also consider the effects on other members of staff as the long term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown, plus having e-cigarette vapours in the workplace may create an unpleasant environment.

Allowing the use of E-cigarettes at work

  • Some employees use E-cigarettes as part of a plan to stop smoking, so employers may want to support their use if this is the case.
  • However, the vapour from E-cigarettes might be annoying to some employees and could potentially provide a health risk for others through passive consumption (like passive smoking) as the long term health effects of E-cigarettes are unknown.
  • Some E-cigarettes look very similar to real cigarettes so employees or customers may think that real cigarettes are being smoked in the workplace. If smoking E-cigarettes is allowed at work, line managers should be aware of who may be smoking them within their teams. It is best to make it a rule that line management approval is needed to smoke E-cigarettes in the workplace.
  • If E-cigarettes are permitted, some employees may argue that real cigarettes should be allowed too.

Forbidding the use of E-cigarettes at work

  • There may be a concern that preventing the use of E-cigarettes at work may hinder those who use them to stop smoking, particularly if they are required to smoke them in designated smoking areas together with cigarette smokers. Employers may want to consider organising a separate E-cigarette smoking area external to work premises.

Supporting employees to stop smoking

Giving up smoking is difficult and employees often need support to succeed, employers can help by signposting them to appropriate help and support. This could either be through an internal occupational health service or through the NHS smoke free service.

Have clear rules about smoking and E-cigarettes

Rules and policies

Employers should be clear about what their rules on the use of E-cigarettes at work are. If they already have a policy on smoking or one on drugs and alcohol then they could include a paragraph about E-cigarettes in there.

When introducing new rules, employers should first consult with any recognised union or elected representatives, and they should speak with all employees to make sure they understand what the new rules mean and that they apply to them.

Employers may want to put up signs or notices in the workplace which make it clear where smoking is allowed (if this is the case) and where it is banned. These should include rules for cigarette smokers and rules for E-cigarette smokers.

Smoking areas

Smoking is forbidden within workplace premises; however organisations can make certain areas available at work to be smoking areas. They do not have to provide a smoking shelter but if they do it must comply with the legal requirements and further information about this can be found at the links below. Employers should make clear in any rules where employees may or may not smoke either cigarettes or E-cigarettes at work.

Smoking breaks

Smokers should generally aim to maintain the same amount of break time as colleagues who do not smoke. However employers may also wish to consider setting out rules about smoking breaks, including how many can be taken, how long the break may last and any requirements about covering the work whilst on a break.

Non compliance

  • It should be made clear in the rules that any unauthorised or excessive taking of smoking or E-smoking breaks will result in disciplinary action.
  • It should be made clear that any smoking of cigarettes or E-cigarettes in a prohibited area at work will result in disciplinary action.
  • Employees should be reminded that it is a criminal offence which will attract a fine to smoke in a designated smoke free public area.