The recent emergence of electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes in society has caused some confusion and consternation for airlines, pubs, restaurants and others. E-cigarettes look like real cigarettes and give off water vapour, which can look like smoke. They atomise a liquid containing nicotine, which means that the "smoker" gets a nicotine hit in a way quite similar to conventional smoking.
E-cigarettes are not covered under the smoking ban, so anyone using one is not breaking the law and neither are the owners of pubs and restaurants if they permit their use on the premises. However, there is a perception problem with them and some organisations have decided to ban their use because they are worried about other customers thinking that people are actually smoking. Some airlines have also banned their use.
So should employers ban their use at work? This will depend on the type of workplace and whether you believe the benefits of permitting their use outweigh any negativity. For instance, if your staff drive company branded vehicles you may wish to ban their use in the vehicles in order to maintain a positive public perception of your company - if a member of the public sees one of your drivers puffing on an e-cigarette they may well think it is real.
In an office environment, which may not be open to the public, the issue will be the impact on other staff. For instance, some smokers and those who have recently quit report that seeing people use e-cigarettes increases their own cravings. Also the BMA have questioned whether the use of e-cigarettes does actually help people to stop smoking in a briefing on the matter.
They advise other nicotine replacement therapies (such as patches) should be used in preference. So the use of e-cigarettes cannot really be justified under any workplace effort to support people who wish to stop smoking.
Please contact us if you would like some help formulating a policy for the use of e-cigarettes.