Smoking electronic cigarettes at work

Electronic cigarettes better known as e-cigarettes are used as an alternative to a conventional cigarette and also to aid smoking cessation.

It is estimated that about 650,000 people in the UK are using e-cigarettes and the use of them at work is rising – this does not break the law, but should it be allowed?

The concern is that allowing employees to smoke e-cigarettes in a tobacco-free workplace may encourage non-smoking employees to try to smoke real cigarettes in the workplace or at least question why they cannot do so.

Smoking conventional cigarettes is prohibited by law in workplaces and public buildings.

The e-cigarettes do not give off smoke and they do not contain tobacco but the vapour emitted from e-cigarettes could be an annoyance to non-smoking employees.

Workplaces across the UK are starting to ban staff from using them as a potential fire and safety risks have been identified. The heating element provides a source of ignition similar to a traditional cigarette which could ignite paper, cardboard and other fuel sources. It is advised to undertake a risk assessment.

Legally, you can permit the use of the e-cigarette in the workplace, including work vehicles and offices. However, if you do not allow the consumption of food or drink in your work area and depending on the type of occupation, you may not approve the use of e-cigarettes while working or carrying out certain tasks. You should add something to the Terms and Conditions of employment and if appropriate, instruct the employees to gain permission first. For example, if a work colleague is pregnant, she may object to anyone using an e-cigarette in her presence.

There is also some concern about their safety. The British Medical Association have advised doctors not to recommend the use of electronic cigarettes as aids to smoking cessation or as a harm reduction approach. A summary of the BMA briefing states

  • e-cigarettes are not regulated as a tobacco product or as a medicine in the UK and there is no peer-reviewed evidence that they are a safe and effective nicotine replacement therapy
  • the use of e-cigarettes may undermine smoking prevention and cessation by reinforcing the normalcy of cigarette use in public and workplaces
  • health professionals should not recommend the use of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation aid or a lower risk option than continuing to smoke due to a lack of evidence of their safety and efficacy