Rethinking Workplace Vaping Policies in Light of the CDC Warning

September 13, 2019 - minute read

Rethinking Workplace Vaping Policies in Light of the CDC WarningThis week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged Americans to refrain from using e-cigarettes while it investigates the link between vaping and lung disease—a move triggered by six deaths and hundreds of sickened vapers. Simultaneously, President Trump has called for a ban on the flavored vaping products that attract young users. 

As a result, it’s expected that many employers will reevaluate their workplace vaping policies (or lack thereof). In order to do so, they’ll need to review the applicable legislation, weigh the pros and cons as they apply to their workplace, and—in many cases—develop a plan for implementing a change in vaping policy.

The State of Workplace Vaping Bans

Before e-cigarettes, there were cigarettes. While there are no federal-level workplace smoking bans that address conventional tobacco products, 38 states have enacted statewide smoking bans covering all—or most—enclosed workplaces. That’s our baseline. 

From there, 17 states have gone on to ban e-cigarettes from the workplace, and more are considering it. Furthermore, more than 150 local jurisdictions have passed legislation restricting workplace vaping. For employers who operate nationwide, keeping track of all the bans and restrictions can be quite a process.

Pros of Allowing Workplace Vaping  

Proponents of e-cigarettes claim that vaping benefits adult smokers who are trying to wean themselves off of conventional cigarettes. They point out that there is no proof of medical dangers to date (although that may be changing, depending on the CDC’s findings). Regardless, e-cigarettes have not been approved by the FDA as an approved smoking-cessation product. 

In addition, vaping advocates claim that allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace improve productivity by eliminating the need for smoking breaks. After all, studies have found that each worker who smokes costs his or her employer more than $3,000 per year in unauthorized smoking breaks and related distractions and illnesses. According to a 2018 Johns Hopkins survey, almost one in 20 adult Americans are now e-cigarette users. 

Pros of Banning E-Cigarettes in the Workplace

On the other hand, those who oppose vaping in the workplace argue that, while the health risks of e-cigarettes are currently unknown, they do contain nicotine and small amounts of known carcinogens. Some coworkers may not wish to be exposed to these; others may simply find the smoke annoying or distracting. 

Requests for accommodation due to chemical sensitivities are already increasing under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and widespread e-cigarette use could intensify such requests. 

Furthermore, permitting vaping now may make it harder to ban it down the road. 

And of course, if you’re a multi-location employer and you enact a company-wide no-vaping policy, you won’t need to manage varying policies location-by-location, simplifying administration for HR and managers.  

Can Vaping Impact Health Insurance Costs? Yes!

Here’s another factor to weigh when considering a vaping ban: your group health insurance premiums. 

The vast majority of group health plans charge higher premiums for smokers—sometimes by as much as 50%--and they don’t distinguish between cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Because vapers test positive for nicotine, carriers categorize them as smokers. 

However, not all policies clearly spell this out (although this, too, is rapidly changing). It’s not uncommon for vapers enroll in their health plans as non-smokers, unknowingly or otherwise. In doing so, they’re setting themselves—and their employers—up for potential insurance trouble later. If the carrier finds out later, the workers may be required to pay the backdated premium difference, or worse. 

The same issue holds true for life insurance. 

In short, the cost impact on employee benefits may be another reason to support a workplace vaping ban.

Implementing a Formal No-Vaping Policy

If you’re considering a no-vaping policy, the first step is to review your company’s existing smoking/tobacco policy. Make sure it’s still compliant with all applicable legislation—and that it will remain so should you expand it to include e-cigarettes. In addition:

  • Define the specific workplace areas where vaping is and isn’t allowed. To avoid confusion, consider limiting vaping to already-designated smoking areas.
  • If your workforce includes union employees, check your collective bargaining agreements before developing your policy—it may limit your options.
  • Designate an HR point person to implement your policy and field employee questions.
  • Train your managers on the new policy.
  • Consider giving your workers advance notice, and prepare responses in anticipation of pushback.
  • If you offer a smoking cessation program, confirm that it addresses e-cigarettes or can be expanded to do so. If you don’t currently offer one, now is a great time to add one.
  • Develop a complete communication program announcing your new no-vaping policy. That may mean updating your employee handbook and onboarding materials and posting notices throughout your worksites. 

For EPAY’s HCM customers, updating—and communicating—HR policies like this is a snap. Our online onboarding and training modules give employers a vehicle for broadcasting company policies, while our 24/7 self-service portal provides workers with easy access their employee handbook anytime. See how it works (it just takes two minutes). 

Filed Under: HR News Workforce Management