“Vaping” is on the rise, with 10.8 million U.S. adults using e-cigarettes; usage is highest among adults ages 18-24. Vaping devices often are small and discreet, which has helped them make their way into workplaces mostly undetected.
Some employees may be using them out in the open, which raises the question of whether vaping should be addressed in your HR policies. The short answer is yes — for multiple reasons.
First, including vaping in your HR policies can protect the health and well-being of all your employees. A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report found that secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes poses potential health risks.
What’s more, addressing vaping at the workplace creates an opportunity to support tobacco users who want to quit.
Nearly 60% of e-cigarette users also smoke cigarettes. There is limited evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in promoting cessation, and using e-cigarettes during the workday may make it harder to quit smoking. If you eliminate the availability of e-cigarettes at work, you increase the possibility that smokers can quit and stay smoke-free. Tobacco-cessation programs like the EX Program can help with this — especially since nearly two-thirds of e-cigarette users reported plans to quit for good, according to a large national study.
So how should you go about including vaping in your HR policies and introducing these policies to your stakeholders and employees? Here are a few tips I typically share with HR folks that can get you started.
If you think you don’t have e-cigarette users in your population you’re probably fooling yourself. As mentioned above, 10.8 million American adults use e-cigarettes. Most employers are unaware what e-cigarette usage really is among employees, so take some steps to find out. A simple SurveyMonkey poll on your intranet could work, as could a carefully crafted email from managers.
Once your newly revised policy is developed, share it with employees in many different shapes and forms to meet your employees where they are: intranet posts, manager talking points and company-wide meetings, for example. As we all know, it can take multiple attempts for all employees to become aware of and comprehend messages from HR teams.
Something else to keep in mind as you communicate: Your new policy applies to more than just employees — it also means vendors, clients and customers must adhere to it while on the job site. Finally, remember that modifying your existing policy to include vaping may represent a powerful opportunity to re-engage smokers in a cessation benefit offering (like the one we run at the EX Program).
Remember Your State and Local Laws
This goes without saying, but because e-cigarettes are regulated at state and local levels, it’s helpful to know where your state and municipality stand. Check out the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation site for a clickable map with detailed information specific to your company’s location. For example, did you know there are 18 states where e-cigarettes are prohibited in bars, restaurants and gambling facilities, and 16 that prohibit them in non-hospitality workplaces?
Be Comprehensive and Consistent
Double-check to see whether your company has a smoke-free policy. Only 80% of indoor workers in the U.S. say they’re covered by a 100% smoke-free policy. And keep in mind that certain industries are less likely to have smoking policies — farming, construction and transportation, for example. One easy place to start when revising your policy and making it more comprehensive is to ensure it prevents exposure to secondhand smoke for all employees, whether they work indoors or outdoors.
Also, make sure your policy is clearly written and understandable, articulating the same terms for smokers as for e-cigarette users. The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation offers a variety of valuable resources, including a model policy that’s easy to follow.
Revising, approving and communicating your new policy will take time, so be patient. I’d suggest allowing six to 12 months for your new policy to gain traction. I’d also recommend following a fairly simple process: Start by developing messaging and assessing tobacco use among employees. Then revise your current policy and identify cessation options if they don’t already exist. Finally, determine enforcement strategies. For example, if your workplace has a progressive discipline policy in place for other issues, it’s best to be consistent and follow that policy for all forms of tobacco too. Once those steps are complete, you’re ready to communicate the new policy with employees.
Although modifying your HR policies to include vaping will take time, it’ll be a worthwhile investment. Protecting your employees and providing a safe working environment is your objective here. This is a new area for many HR folks, but by taking these steps you’ll be well on your way to crafting a policy that keeps your employees safe — and that positions your company as proactively adapting to the rapidly evolving world of vaping.