National: Vaping Bans Become More Common as Companies Assess ‘Smoke-Free’ Workplaces

Liz Carey

Juneau, AK (WorkersCompensation.com) – A statewide smoking ban proposed in Alaska would include provisions to prohibit vaping in public places as well.

SB 63, proposed by Sen. Peter Micciche, would prohibit smoking e-cigarettes and cigarettes in all public places across the state, and is one of the latest efforts to treat vaping the same as smoking.

Vaping, as smoking an e-cigarette is called, is coming under increased scrutiny in workplaces as well, as human resource professionals and managers struggle to provide smoke-free work environments. While advocates of vaping say it’s harmless and has helped them to quit smoking, anti-smoking advocates say it’s still not clear what the effects of vaping or breathing in secondhand e-cigarette vapors are.

A recent study at the University of Rochester found that vaping damages cells in the gums and lungs, and may make it harder for those cells to heal. In addition, some evidence suggests vaping may decrease the vaper’s immunity.

Businesses are struggling with what to do with vaping. While businesses like Wal-Mart, CVS Caremark and Starbucks ban vaping by employees, places like ExxonMobil allow vaping in smoking areas.

In 2007, 91 percent of all US employees were subject to smoking restriction policies, according to a report from Pfizer, Inc. But whether or not to include vaping in those policies is something most companies have not yet addressed. In states like Arkansas, New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah, as well in more than 150 municipalities including New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, legislation requires that e-cigarettes be included in indoor smoking regulations.

And according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 44 percent of the respondents to the survey said that vaping was mentioned in their organization’s smoking policies, and 33 percent of those organizations without a vaping policy said their organization had plans to create one within the year.

“With health care costs continuing to climb, HR professionals are likely to continue to take an interest in the smoking habits of their workforce,” said SHRM researcher Karen Wessels, project lead for the survey. “Many organizations decide not to permit smoking in the workplace as part of their overall wellness strategy.”

According to a study by Wolfgang Schober of the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority, vaping actually worsens indoor air quality. The study, published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, found that vaping increased the concentration of nicotine, particulate matter, aluminum and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, all of which have been linked to lung and cardiovascular disease, cancer and other illnesses.

And according to Stefan Black, legal counsel with FordHarrison, just like with second hand smoke from cigarettes, allowing vaping at work could put employers at risk if an employee can prove secondhand vapor made them sick.

“An employer that allows tobacco smoking in the workplace is often liable for workers’ compensation claims and other lawsuits brought by employees who suffer an illness or injury because of the secondhand smoke. …an employer that allows vaping in the workplace should expect similar claims from employees who claim to be sickened by secondhand vapor. Whether such claims will be successful will depend on whether the employee proves that e-cigarette vapor caused him or her to get sick. While a few studies have found e-cigarette vapor to be harmful, there is no scientific consensus regarding the short-term or long-term effects of e-cigarette vapor.”

Click here to read WorkerCompensation.com’s “4-1-1 on Comp” perspective on vaping.