Employers Struggle With How to Handle E-Cigs in the Office
It seems like the whole world is still wrestling with the concept of electronic cigarettes. These tiny devices are revolutionizing life for thousands of smokers that are finding freedom from tobacco for the first time in years. However, the rise in ecig use leaves employers with a difficult decision. How should they deal with vaping in the workplace? While 28 states have banned smoking in the workplace, only three have added electronic cigarettes to those bans. Around 150 cities have voted in public vaping bans that basically serve to prohibit people from vaping at work. In other areas where vaping isn’t outlawed, the employers are forced to set their own policies.
Large corporations like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco have to consider stores in hundreds of locations when they decide what to do about the growing vaping movement. As the largest private employer in the United States, Wal-Mart has 1.3 million employees and many of those people are also e-cig users. Still, the company chose to include e-cigarettes in their smoking bans, making them off limits in offices and stores across the country. Spokesman Randy Hargrove told Forbes that the company views e-cigs as tobacco products and treats them the same as regular cigarettes. General Electric and Target also follow that protocol, lumping e-cigs in with analog cigarettes in their workplace policies.
It’s frustrating for vapers to make the switch to e-cigarettes only to learn that they are still categorized as smokers, despite giving up tobacco. Even though e-cigs have no known link to cancer, emphysema, or lung disease, they are still treated as tobacco products simply because they contain nicotine. Interestingly, these big corporations don’t ban nicotine patches, lozenges, or gum. It’s actually quite the opposite! Wal-Mart offers these nicotine replacement products to employees at no charge as part of a smoking cessation initiative. Yet research shows that e-cigarettes are just as effective for smoking cessation.
Wal-Mart’s attitude towards vaping really paved the way for other big businesses to initiate their own vaping bans. CVS Caremark prohibits vaping in corporate offices and Starbucks banned vaping in all locations for both employees and customers. United Parcel Service (UPS) has one of the most disturbing approaches to e-cigarette use. UPS employees that smoke regular cigarettes are forced to pay an additional $150 per month in insurance premiums, but the company also forces vapers to pay this same penalty fee even though there is no evidence that vaping increases risks for emphysema, cancer, or lung disease.
Fortunately, a few companies are taking a friendly approach to vaping and even encouraging it in the workplace. In early 2014, McDonalds reportedly allowed employees and customers to use e-cigarettes in stores and in corporate offices. Oklahoma-based Ebsco Spring Company not only allows vaping, but offers free e-cig starter kits to smoking employees that want to quit. CEO Cheryl Dooley is a former smoker that managed to quit a long-term tobacco addiction by using e-cigarettes. After finding freedom from tobacco, she wanted the same for her employees. More than one-third of Ebesco Spring employees were smokers so Dooley bought 28 starter kits and handed them out to willing smokers. Since then, half of the smokers have already managed to quit completely.
While Dooley has found a successful way to encourage smoking cessation for her employees, it’s a small victory among many employers that are lumping ecigs in with dangerous tobacco products. So how should companies handle the vaping issue in the workplace? Even if the vapor is harmless, it could still offend customers that aren’t familiar with the differences between smoking and vaping. And how can a workplace control the massive clouds of vapor that could arise if “cloud chasing” employees don’t practice some common courtesy while using ecigs on the job?
Ultimately, this is a hard call for employers to make and it really depends on the individual workplace setting. Do you think vaping should be allowed in the workplace or is it best to ask vaping employees to keep their ecigs at home?