By Barbara Semeniuk, 2020
E-cigarettes, the electronic alternative to traditional cigarettes, have continued to rise in popularity among smokers since first introduced to consumers around 2007. The e-cigarette is now the most widely used form of non-tobacco nicotine (NTN). Marketing tactics first labeled e-cigarettes as a healthier option of tobacco use for the smoker and the environment. While employers have regulations in place for smoking conventional cigarettes on worksites, electronic cigarette use has been loosely disregarded, despite presenting potential harm to companies and employees.
E-cigarettes and other electronic smoking devices
E-cigarette devices may be disposable or rechargeable and are used to inhale vapors. Flavored or nicotine liquid in the atomizer is heated by the battery, causing vapor to be dispersed through the cartridge. Consumers can choose from various flavors, strengths of nicotine, and other similar products, like e-pipes, e-hookahs, and e-cigars. The e-cigarette is the most discreet as it is only the size of a pen.
The original purpose of e-cigarettes was for smokers to use tobacco without inhaling tar, ammonia, formaldehyde, and other toxic ingredients. The vapor also produces more of a subtle scent, compared to traditional cigarettes.
Emerging market regulations
In 2014, the Indoor Environmental Quality Committee and Risk Committee, AIHA, stated that e-cigarettes are harmful to the indoor environment, as they are not emission-free and release chemicals into the air. The result is damage to both the user and those around them.
In May 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued regulations related to e-cigarette sales, taxes, marketing, and distribution within the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. As part of the ruling, the minimum age for purchasing the device was raised to 21 years.
The FDA reported that e-cigarette usage among adolescents was at 11.7% in 2017. During the same year, CDC listed 2.8%, or 9 million, US adults were e-cigarette consumers.
The public perception of e-cigarettes being safer and healthier than traditional cigarettes has resulted in fewer restrictions for smoking in public. A nationwide survey was conducted among 4,043 adults in 2012 by Majeed et al. From the survey, 22.6% believed e-cigarettes should be allowed anywhere, and 39.8% had no opinion on the matter. However, 37.5% of the participants believed e-cigarettes should be banned or used in a designated smoking area. It is necessary to determine a workplace policy to avoid any confusion. To make an informed decision, you need to consider the risks.
Even though marketed as “safer” than traditional cigarettes, there are many known risks associated with e-cigarette usage. The e-liquids found in the devices typically contain water, nicotine, flavoring, vegetable glycerin, or propylene glycol. When these liquids are vaporized, organic compounds such as formaldehyde are produced, causing damaging bronchial infections that scar the lungs and thicken airways.
Other chemicals, like nickel, arsenic, and lead, have also been found in e-cigarettes. Nicotine, when smoked in any form, can cause respiratory problems, and even lead to death. As the e-devices have evolved, they deliver nicotine more effectively. Chemicals from the e-cigarettes can also travel to others from surfaces or skin-to-skin contact.
Safety and Property Risks
Most safety and property risks associated with e-cigarettes come from the lithium-ion batteries. When the device charges for too long, the battery can overheat and has been known to cause fires and explosions that harm people and property. Battery failure has also occurred in the user’s pocket, resulting in second- and even third-degree burns. A study from Toy et al. found that from November 2015 to March 2017, 25 patients were hospitalized at a burn center in Southern California from battery failure in e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes with intact batteries should not be thrown directly in the trash. Under the Universal Rules of Hazardous Waste regulations, e-cigarettes must be stored, recycled, and labeled properly.
Enforcing Workplace Regulations
Smoking regulations and policies have been enforced by most US and Canadian businesses; however, e-cigarette use has been vague. It is up to the employer, under drug and alcohol policies, to regulate the use of e-cigarettes among employees and customers. This includes vaping indoors, charging the device in the building, and proper storing when it is not in use.
Keep in mind, hazardous chemicals used to make e-cigarette products are not exempt from EPCRA sections 311 and 312 reporting requirements as they contain chemicals that pose fire and health risks.
If you are required to submit a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or (SDS) for hazardous chemicals listed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and Hazardous Communication Standards (HCS), you must include hazardous chemicals used to make e-cigarette products. OSHA’s exemption only applies to traditional tobacco and tobacco products.
All Canadian jurisdictions have a formal law or regulation that restricts or prohibits traditional smoking in the workplace. Conventional and e-cigarette devices should not be allowed in situations that involve working with flammable, combustible, and/or explosive materials to protect employees from fire and explosion hazards. Regulations change from province to province, so local authorities must be consulted.
To create a workplace Smoking and Vaping policy form, you can use a free template provided by SHRM.org and address the issue as part of a complete occupational health program.
Barton, B., Spicer, K., & Byrd, T. (2020, September). E-cigarettes in the Workplace, The Impact on Company Alcohol & Drug Policies, https://www.assp.org/docs/default-source/psj-articles/f1barton_0920.pdf?sfvrsn=6a21b547_2
EPA.gov, 2020. E-cigarette and EPCRA 311 / 312 Reporting, https://www.epa.gov/epcra/e-cigarette-and-epcra-311-312-reporting
Smoke and Vape-Free Workplace Policy, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/cms_009947.aspx
Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, 2017. Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS): General Information and Health Effects, https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/ets_health.html