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Banning e-cigarettes in the workplace

Potential health risks of ‘vaping’ are not yet known

By Brian Kreissl

I have to admit that I dislike smoking. Several people in my family died of lung cancer (including my mother), and the older I get the more second hand smoke bothers me.

I believe part of the reason it bothers me so much is that I am just not used to being exposed to second hand smoke these days. Therefore, on the rare occasion I am exposed to smoke indoors (particularly in a confined space like a car) it really causes me discomfort.

However, I understand how difficult it is for people to quit smoking and I really do believe the old adage that everyone has their vices (mine are alcohol and sweets). Therefore, my goal isn't to have a go at smokers or try to turn them into pariahs.

I also think most smokers these days are generally pretty considerate of non-smokers and understand the dangers of second hand smoke. Even some smokers I’ve met were pleased when smoking was banned in restaurants and bars (there was nothing worse than coming home from a night out and having your clothes reek of smoke).

Mixed feelings about e-cigarettes

Because of my feelings, I am sure a lot of people assume I would really welcome the introduction of e-cigarettes. While I certainly believe anything that will stop people from smoking is a good thing, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the use of these devices — particularly indoors. 

Obviously, I have no quarrel with people “vaping” outdoors in designated smoking areas. But I do question whether people should be allowed to vape indoors.

I maintain a smoke-free home, and I certainly wouldn’t want someone to use an e-cigarette in my house. I would imagine most employers would feel the same.

I understand the arguments for being able to use e-cigarettes indoors. They don't produce “smoke” as such, and the harmful carcinogens present in cigarette smoke aren’t in the vapours produced by e-cigarettes.

I also get that making people go outside and vape with the smokers might be sending out the wrong message and be difficult for people trying to kick the smoking habit. We should be making it easier for people to stop smoking, and having “vapers” go outside is simply making it more inconvenient. Treating vapours from e-cigarettes the same way we treat tobacco smoke doesn't acknowledge the reduced health risk.

But my problem with using e-cigarettes indoors is that people produce a noticeable cloud of vapour when they exhale. Even without all of the carcinogens, nicotine is still a deadly poison (apparently more deadly than arsenic or strychnine) and is actually sometimes used as a pesticide. Other substances are also present.

Admittedly, the amount of nicotine people are consuming from tobacco or vaping isn’t anywhere near the deadly dose, but I would still prefer to avoid breathing the stuff as much as possible. I personally don’t think we are completely aware just yet what the health risks of these vapours might be.

I also think we should avoid sending out the message that vaping is completely benign. This is particularly important because e-cigarettes are actually available in sweet flavours like banana or chocolate — which might be tempting to children.

Calls for bans on vaping indoors

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently called for the regulation of e-cigarettes, including a ban on indoor use and restricting sales to minors. While the regulatory framework in Canada hasn’t quite caught up with the use of these devices, the Ontario government recently introduced legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 19 and make vaping indoors in public places illegal. It would also ban the sale of flavoured tobacco products.

Several employers including Wal-Mart have banned vaping from their premises. This is probably the best response for now until more evidence is available relating to the health risks associated with second hand vapours from e-cigarettes.

As several commentators have mentioned, an important policy consideration is keeping people happy and dealing with their concerns. Seeing a colleague vaping in the office surely would cause some people discomfort.

Perhaps if e-cigarettes really take off, it might make sense to have a “designated vaping area” separate from the smoking area outside. If studies show e-cigarettes to pose little to no harm to others, that vaping area could potentially be indoors. However, for now I don’t see any real alternative to requiring vapers to go outside with the smokers.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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