Health Groups Offer Guidance on E-Cigarettes in the Workplace

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  - Society For Human Resource Management - March 16, 2015

The rapid growth in the popularity of e-cigarettes is a cause for concern, according to organizations involved in a collaborative effort to develop guidance for employers regarding worksite tobacco policies.

Their recommendations can be found in “Guidance to Employers on Integrating E-Cigarettes/Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems into Tobacco Worksite Policy,” published in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The paper represents the work of a large group of health professionals from the private and public sector—including nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, research organizations, and wellness program providers—who reviewed the most current research on the use and effects of e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes work by vaporizing a liquid nicotine solution, not through burning tobacco. They do not emit vapor unless the user is inhaling, and do not require ignition by a lighter or match.

According to the authors, health experts are concerned about the rapid growth of e-cigarettes because the long-term health effects from the chemicals in e-cigarettes are not yet known and these products are not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Employers have invested significant time and resources into developing effective workplace policies that help reduce the use of tobacco among employees and their families,” said Jerry Noyce, president and CEO of the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization, which led the collaborative effort. “This guidance helps employers adjust their policies and programs to accommodate the rapid growth of e-cigarettes so they do not lose momentum in their health improvement efforts,” he said in a news release.

Steps to Take

The paper recommends that employers take the following actions:

  • Consider e-cigarettes a tobacco product in tobacco worksite policies and include e-cigarettes in tobacco-free policies.
  • Strive for tobacco-free work environments and ban e-cigarette use in smoke-free work areas. If employers have designated smoking areas, they should establish a separate area for e-cigarette users. This will keep e-cigarette users safe from the secondhand smoke in cigarettes, and it will help employees who are using e-cigarettes instead of cigarettes not relapse into smoking.
  • When screening for tobacco use as part of a workplace wellness program, optimally screen for both tobacco and e-cigarette use to tailor wellness programs and worksite policies.
  • Continue to offer comprehensive tobacco cessation services for employees who wish to stop tobacco use, and make e-cigarette users eligible for these services. Many e-cigarette users use other forms of tobacco and can be helped by cessation support.
  • When administering health-contingent incentives, target tobacco use instead of nicotine use. An incentive policy consistent with the Affordable Care Act cannot require that employees quit smoking, but may offer employees who use tobacco “reasonable alternatives” that most commonly include the completion of a cessation program.
  • Include education and awareness of e-cigarettes and cessation therapies in workplace wellness programs and publicize the workplace tobacco policy to employees, spouses and dependents. It is especially important to reach the children and adolescents of employees’ families because education about e-cigarettes may prevent initiation of a nicotine habit.

“While there is still much to learn about the acute and chronic health effects of e-cigarette use, our policy recommendations are based on robust evidence that suggests unregulated use of e-cigarettes in the workplace could reverse social norms, leading to an increase in tobacco use and addiction,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville, Ky.