Electronic cigarettes: all fire and no smoke?
They are used by an estimated 2.1 million Britons and have already cost one user his life. So just how safe are e-cigarettes and should employers allow their staff to ‘vape’ away in the workplace?
While smoking in enclosed public places has been banned in Wales since 2007, the use of e-cigs (battery-powered vaporizers that give users a nicotine hit but don’t contain other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes) is currently under fire in Wales, which looks set to become the first UK nation to ban them in enclosed public spaces.
In July 2014, a report was released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that recommended governments to ban the use of electronic cigarettes indoors. This advice has already been taken by 18 countries, such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, Singapore and Uruguay, where e-cigs have either been banned, heavily regulated or subject to governmental health advisories. Similarly, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium as well as some bars and cafes in Wales have also followed suit.
When insurer Standard Life banned e-cigs in the workplace, the employer was criticised and accused of treating its staff like children, leading the Pro-Smoking organisation Forest to condemn the move as ‘crazy’. But a representative from public health charity ASH (Action on Smoking on Health) supported the decision, stating: “E-cigarettes are much less harmful than normal cigarettes, however there is still a lot of research to be done both on their safety and on their effectiveness.”
The health and safety fears are not only linked to the lack of research into the long term health effects of e-cigarettes, but also due to the fire risk the device poses when being charged, as one man was killed in a fire last year when his e-cig exploded whilst charging.
While electronic cigarettes have received support for helping people to give up smoking, their use has also raised concerns in relation to health and safety, addiction and fears that they normalise smoking. Although e-cigarettes are currently regulated as general consumer products, they won’t come under the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive until it comes into effect in May 2016. In addition to this, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’s announcement in 2013 that it would regulate all Nicotine Containing Products, including e-cigs, means that vaporizers containing more than 20mg of nicotine will be switched from an unregulated consumer product to a medicine, meaning further health and safety tests would be necessary before they are approved and deemed suitable for sale in the UK.
While ASH believes there isn’t enough evidence to support an outright ban on e-cigarettes, it does suggest that there are some places where there use could be deemed inappropriate.
One of the issues an employer should consider if a decision to ban vaporizers in the workplace is made is ensuring that users of e-cigs are treated the same ways as smokers, and are therefore allocated a non-enclosed smoke-free area if smokers are provided a place to smoke in. This is especially important in view of the fact that many people who use e-cigarettes are trying to give up conventional smoking.
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