Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) are gaining in popularity. According to ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) an estimated 2.1 million adults in Great Britain currently use them. There has been a substantial rise in the number of current smokers who have tried electronic cigarettes since 2010. In 2010, only 9% of smokers had ever tried them, but this figure had risen to 52% by 2014.
E-cigarettes are essentially battery-powered devices that replicate smoking behaviour (without the use of tobacco) with a combination of nicotine, flavour and other chemicals. Many claim that they are very useful when giving up smoking because they allow users to feel as though they are smoking and to gradually reduce the amount of nicotine they inhale over time.
Whilst smokers are obliged to smoke outdoors since the smoking ban in enclosed workplaces came into force in July 2007, many smokers of e-cigarettes do not consider themselves to be obliged to adhere to these rules because e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. However, critics of the e-cigarette argue that smoking e-cigarettes in public places risks normalising smoking behaviour, and may in fact cause yet unknown negative health effects (e.g. putting pregnant women at risk) due to the lack of testing that has been carried out into the potential risks associated with them.
In fact, it was announced on 9 June 2015 that a new public health law, which is likely to come into force in 2017, will see people being banned from using e-cigarettes in enclosed spaces in Wales. This decision has divided opinion between those who view e-cigarettes as a good way of helping people to quit smoking, and those who view them as a normalising force that may encourage the uptake of smoking amongst young people.
It’s clear, therefore, that the question of whether or not to allow employers to smoke e-cigarettes within the workplace is a tricky one to resolve, but employers should be clear about the rules in the workplace surrounding the use of e-cigarettes as part of the organisation’s smoking policy. Certainly discouraging smoking in the general sense is in the interests of staff, employers and organisations, if staff are to remain healthy and productive.
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