• Vaping at Work: How can employers best protect the health of the workforce & support smokers wanting to stop?

    E-cigarettes can appear to offer a painless way of giving up smoking and getting round the smoking ban, allowing smokers to get their nicotine “hit.”. Vapes are not covered by smoke- free legislation, as they do not contain a burning substance.

    However, the use of “vapes” in public places, including work environments, is increasingly seen as a problem, not a solution. The vapour can affect those with lung problems and there are concerns about possible long term health risks. The Government’s latest report into vaping (September 2022) found that:  

    • in the short and medium term, vaping poses a small fraction of the risks of smoking
    • vaping is not risk-free, particularly for people who have never smoked
    • evidence is mostly limited to short and medium term effects and studies assessing longer term vaping (for more than 12 months) are necessary


    As there is currently no legislation governing the use of e-cigarettes and vapes in the workplace, the decision on how to deal with the issue is very much down to the individual employer. Many large employers have banned vaping in the workplace such as Weatherspoon’s, KFC, Starbucks and Caffe Nero, whilst others take a more nuanced approach.

    So, what is the best way to tackle this problem in a way that supports ex-smokers and those seeking to give up, whilst also supporting the health and wellbeing of other employees?

    First, you should decide – ideally in consultation with employees – whether to allow e-cigarettes and related products or ban them completely along with smoking devices. If there is a recognised union in the workplace, you should consult with them also.

    If it is decided to allow vapes, some ground rules may be useful – for instance, getting individual permission from a line manager. Keeping a record of those employees who have permission to vape will be helpful in case disputes or issues arise. 

    The alternative is a full ban, which may seem the easiest solution but will put pressure on employees who are trying to give up smoking, and may even lead them to look for work elsewhere.

    As a compromise, if space or building rules allow, try providing a room or area where vapes can be used. Public Health England advise that it is never acceptable to require vapers to share the same outdoor space with smokers, because this may make it difficult for them to remain smoke-free; a separate space should be provided (PHE: Use of e-cigarettes in public places and workplaces).

    Whatever you decide, having a firm policy in place is essential. If you already have a policy regarding smoking, drugs and alcohol, you may wish to include vaping in that, or to have an entirely separate policy. Ensure that employees are alerted to any change or introduction of new rules, and that they fully understand the implications, including disciplinary measures if those apply. Signs and notices will help ensure that employees know what is and what is not allowed.

    In addition, be clear that although smoking or vaping breaks are often taken for granted, they are not a legal requirement, and those who do not smoke or vape should not be at a disadvantage. You may wish to consider how many such breaks should be reasonably allowed, how long they should last, and requirements about covering work whilst on a break, and to include these in your vaping and smoking policies.

    Until we know more about the long term social and medical impact of vaping, it is advisable for employers to carefully weigh up the competing potential benefits of permitting ex-smokers to vape whilst they try to kick the habit with those employees who may not wish to be exposed to potentially harmful content of the vapour emitted. Ultimately, the most important factor is that the health and wellbeing of all employees is protected.

     If you would like to discuss any of the issues in this piece do not hesitate to get in touch.

    Our solicitors are always on hand to give you friendly, professional advice. Please contact Zoe on 0203 858 9765 or email zoe@mulberryssolicitors.com. Mulberry’s has offices in Brighton and London.
    This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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