In case you haven’t noticed, the use of e-cigarettes—also called vaping—is on the rise. As a result, many HR managers and benefit consultants are still playing catch-up to answer questions from employees, colleagues, and executives.
- “Are e-cigs as disruptive to productivity and as harmful as other tobacco products?”
- “Should e-cigs be handled in a tobacco-free policy?”
- “Is there a risk of secondhand smoke with e-cigs?”
These are all questions we hear from HR folks on a routine basis.
Should Vaping Be in Formal HR Policies?
While HR leaders have many questions about vaping and e-cigs, the big work-related question is this: Should we be including vaping in our formal HR policies?
Our advice is absolutely—and for three big reasons: First, including vaping in your HR policies can protect the health of all your employees. A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report found that secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes poses potential health risks.
Second, adding vaping language to these policies can also help eliminate the risk of harm from malfunctioning devices. There are documented cases of e-cigarette devices exploding, causing burns and projectile injuries to the user. Banning e-cigarette devices eliminates this risk at the workplace.
And third, adding vaping to your policies can help create a supportive environment for smokers to quit. Although some adults find that e-cigarettes help them quit tobacco and the NASEM report found conclusive evidence that completely substituting e-cigarettes for cigarettes reduces a user’s exposure to the deadly toxins and chemicals in cigarette smoke, few vapers use e-cigarettes exclusively.
In fact, nearly 60% of e-cigarette users also smoke cigarettes. Research shows there is limited evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in promoting cessation, especially when almost all products contain nicotine, an addictive chemical.
By eliminating the possibility of using e-cigarettes at work, you increase the likelihood that smokers will quit.
So, how, exactly, should you go about including vaping in your HR policies? We would like to share six key steps that can help get you started.
6 Steps to Get Started
Know your state and local laws—backward and forward.
This is a good place to start. E-cigarettes are regulated at state and local levels, and it’s helpful to know where your state and municipality stand. Check out the American Nonsmokers’ Right Foundation maps for a useful, clickable map for detailed information specific to your company’s location. For example, did you know there are now 18 states where e-cigarettes are prohibited in bars, restaurants, and gambling facilities and 16 that prohibit them in nonhospitality workplaces?
Ask employees about vaping.
Think you don’t have vapers in your employee population? Think again. Today, 10.8 million U.S. adults use e-cigarettes; usage is highest among adults aged 18 to 24. Most employers are unaware of what e-cig usage really is among employees, so take the steps to find out. A simple SurveyMonkey poll on your intranet could work—as could a carefully crafted e-mail from managers.
Make your policy comprehensive.
First, double-check to see if your company has a smoke-free policy. A recent report showed only 80% of indoor workers in the U.S. say they are covered by a 100% smoke-free policy. And keep in mind that certain industries are less likely to have smoking policies—like the farming, construction, and transportation industries, for example. One easy place to start when revising your policy and making it more comprehensive is to ensure it prevents exposure to secondhand smoke for all your employees—whether they work indoors or outdoors.
Handle smoking and vaping consistently.
Make sure your policy is clearly written and understandable, articulating the same terms for smokers as for e-cigarette users. One great resource: The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. This organization has a variety of valuable resources, including a model policy that’s easy to follow.
Communicate consistently with employees.
As we all know by now, it takes multiple attempts from HR to get employees to become aware of and comprehend messages from HR teams. So, be sure to share your updated policy with employees in different forms—intranet posts, manager talking points, and companywide meetings, for example. Another point to keep in mind as you communicate:
Your new policy applies to more than just employees—it also means vendors, clients, and customers must adhere to it while on the jobsite. Finally, remember that modifying your existing policy to include vaping may represent a powerful opportunity to reengage cigarette smokers in a cessation benefit offering.
Allow ample time for implementation.
Revising, approving, and communicating your new policy will take time. So, be patient. I’d suggest allowing 6 to 12 months for your newly modified workplace policy to gain traction. I’d recommend following a fairly simple process: Start by developing messaging and assessing tobacco use among employees. Then, revise your current policy, and identify cessation options (if they don’t already exist). Finally, determine enforcement strategies. For example, if your workplace has a progressive discipline policy in place for other issues, it’s best to be consistent and follow that policy for all forms of tobacco, too. Once those steps are complete, you’re ready to communicate the new policy to employees.
Although modifying your existing HR policies to include vaping will take time, it’ll be a worthwhile investment. Protecting your employees and providing a safe working environment are your objectives here. This is a new area for many HR folks, but by taking the steps we’ve mentioned, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a policy that keeps your employees safe—and enables your company to proactively adapt to the rapidly evolving world of vaping.
Amanda Graham, PhD, leads the Innovations Center within Truth Initiative, a national public health organization that is inspiring tobacco-free lives. Under her leadership, the Innovations team has built a suite of technology solutions for tobacco control, including the EX Program, an enterprise quit-tobacco platform designed for employers. She is internationally recognized as a thought leader in Web and mobile quit-smoking interventions and online social networks and has been awarded over $15 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding. She has a Master of Science degree and a PhD in Clinical Health Psychology from the University of Health Sciences/Chicago Medical School.