As health experts call for more research into the effects of e-cigarettes' secondhand "smoke," employers are working to create new rules to govern employees' use of the battery-powered, vapor devices.
History of smoking in the workplace
In 1994, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a controversial smoking ban for more than one million workplaces, basing the policy proposal on scientific research linking secondhand cigarette smoke to adverse health effects.
Today, 24 states and the District of Columbia ban smoking in the workplace, but only three states—New Jersey, Utah, and North Dakota—have included e-cigarettes in the ban. In addition, more than 100 cities forbid "vaping" in public areas where regular smoking is prohibited; however, most of those cities have not outlined how employers should handle the issue.
Most vaping liquids contain nicotine, but scientists say e-cigarettes emit far fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes. Still, health experts have yet to determine whether e-cigarettes are a valuable smoking cessation tool or a potentially unhealthy pollutant for bystanders.
FDA proposal may help employers decide
FDA is weighing a set of proposals on how e-cigarette marketing and sales should be regulated, and the agency could release proposed regulations in the coming weeks. According to employment attorney Jay Hux, doing so would "eliminate some of the uncertainty as to whether e-cigarettes should be grouped as tobacco products that are harmful."
For now, employers are divided. Exxon Mobil allows vaping in smoking areas, while employees at CVS Caremark, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart are prohibited from using either regular or e-cigarettes. At McDonald's, both employees and customers are allowed to use the devices.
The new smoking devices are also being factored into some employers' insurance policies. Non-union employees of UPS are charged an additional $150 in monthly insurance premiums if they smoke, and the company just added e-cigarette use to that policy (Weber/Esterl, Journal, 1/15).