This week, a Los Angeles City Council panel endorsed restrictions on electronic cigarettes which would prohibit their use in a range of public spaces and most workplaces. It will now be up to the full City Council to decide whether to implement the restrictions, which would result in electronic cigarettes being treated in the same way as "normal" cigarettes.
When the ban on smoking in enclosed public places was introduced in the UK in 2006/07, electronic cigarettes were not widely available. As such, the law does not currently prohibit employees from "lighting up"electronic cigarettes in the workplace (although their employer's rules might). It is, therefore, up to employers to decide whether they will permit the use of electronic cigarettes by employees in the workplace.
Allowing the use of electronic cigarettes in the workplace may have some advantages – employees who are trying to give up smoking may view it as a supportive measure, productivity may rise because employees will take fewer "cigarette breaks" and there may be a reduction in sickness absence.
However, there is a high chance that non-smoking employees will be upset at the thought of colleagues"smoking" electronic cigarettes in the workplace. Some experts are sceptical with regards to the safety of the chemicals used in electronic cigarettes and are concerned by "passive vaping". Pregnant employees or those with certain health conditions may be particularly alarmed at the prospect of being exposed to the vapour from electronic cigarettes.
The British Medical Association has called for the smoking ban to be extended to electronic cigarettes. A co-chair of the BMA's Public Health Medicine Committee has said of electronic cigarettes, "these devices directly undermine the effects and intentions of existing legislation including the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces". The BMA encourages employers, as an interim measure, to implement policies prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes in the workplace.
ACAS has published some basic guidance on the use of electronic cigarettes in the workplace; however, it does not take a particular stance on whether it should be prohibited or not. Our view is that there is a strong case for banning electronic cigarettes in the workplace. Otherwise, employers could find themselves facing grievances from disgruntled employees. If an employer decides to ban electronic cigarettes in the workplace, it should update its no-smoking policy (and perhaps also its Disciplinary Policy) and ensure that employees are aware of the rules.