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Rising popularity of vaping raises new issues in the workplace

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The first time I heard about vaping was during a conversation with my teenage kids a few years ago. I was surprised to hear them say “everyone does it!” What exactly is it? The definition of vaping is “the action or practice of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.” Seems harmless, but is it?

Although smoking has been banned from most workplaces for a long time, vaping now presents new issues for employers as well as society in general. Should this smoking alternative be allowed at work and treated like cigarettes?

I was happy to hear that Michigan was the first state to ban flavored e-cigarettes as a step to protect young people from the potentially harmful effects of vaping. The ban imposed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is targeting sweet flavors and vaping products that use mint and menthol flavors, but not unflavored or tobacco-flavored products. The state is currently appealing a judge’s decision to block enforcement of the new ban.

When developing your e-cigarette policy and discussing this in your company, take the following things into consideration.

Is vaping considered hazardous by health experts?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as of Oct. 22, 2019, 34 people have died from vaping-related lung illnesses in 24 states, and the number of possible lung injury cases has grown to 1,604 in 49 states. In Michigan, six individuals have been hospitalized and one person has died, according the MDHHS. All patients had vaped within days or weeks of getting sick, and many had used e-cigarettes with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The American Lung Association cautions that vaping may pose secondhand-emissions risks. But more research needs to be done. “While e-cigarettes may be less harmful than regular cigarettes, this does not mean that they are harmless,” according to the National Cancer Institute.

Check your state and local laws

Employers may have the discretion to treat vaping as they want, depending on their location. But employers should consider state and local regulations when developing a policy.

Some states may broadly prohibit vaping in places where smoking is banned while other states ban vaping in specific locations such as state government buildings, schools or child care facilities.

Employers should set clear guidelines

Review your policy and be sure to clarify the sphere of what products are covered and what areas of the worksite are covered by any restrictions or bans. When making any policy changes, be sure to communicate to all employees and clarify that it applies to customers, clients and any third party visitors to your organization.

If you need help reviewing, updating or creating a new policy involving vaping or other matter, please contact BCN Services Human Resources Department for assistance.