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Vaping in the workplace is a bigger problem than most employers think

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According to the recently released Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking Cessation, just 3.2%of U.S. adults vaped in 2018. That’s a pretty low number, and it’s been stable for about the past 5 years. But new research shows that vaping in the workplace is a much bigger concern than many employers recognize, and it actually has as much to do with those who do not vape as it does with those who do.

The Innovations Center within Truth Initiative recently surveyed 1,620 U.S. employed adults from a range of industries and companies to ask about their experience with vaping in the workplace. What we found was surprising:

  • 63% of respondents said vaping in the workplace bothered them. Non-vapers are more bothered than vapers, with 69% of non-vapers saying vaping in the workplace bothered them versus 40% of vapers.
  • 72% of respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” see vapor clouds from vapes or e-cigarettes at work.
  • 41% of respondents said they “sometimes” or “often” notice coworkers vaping near their workspace.

Vaping isn’t harmless, either for e-cigarette users themselves or for those exposed to secondhand aerosol. First and foremost, the long-term effects of e-cigarette use are not yet known. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. In addition, the aerosol from e-cigarettes can contain cancer-causing chemicals.

There are risks for non-vapers too, from secondhand exposure to e-cigarette aerosol. A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report examined more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and found conclusive evidence that secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes poses risks. These health risks are particularly high for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and people with respiratory disorders like asthma.

In addition to health concerns, decreased productivity related to vaping is also important to have on your radar. In our survey, 55% of non-vapers agreed that vaping in the workplace decreases productivity for those who do not vape; further 70% of non-vapers agreed that vaping in the workplace decreases productivity for those who do vape. What this means is that even if you have a small number of people vaping at work, those handful of people who are vaping may be affecting a much larger segment of your workforce.

Vaping may also be distressing your employees in other ways. For example, two-thirds of parents of teens and young adults were very/extremely concerned that their children were vaping. Our survey found that this concern translates into being less productive at work for 18% of parents of children who vape. With more than five million young people vaping today, it’s likely that a significant number of parents in your workforce are struggling with this issue.

These parents’ concerns are valid. Twenty eight percent of high school students are current e-cigarette users, up from 20.8% in 2018. And, to make matters worse, most parents are flying blind. According to Truth Initiative research, almost 75% of parents indicated they received no communication from their child’s school regarding e-cigarettes.

So, what should companies do about vaping in the workplace? The first step: add vaping to your workplace no smoking policy. Numerous progressive companies are already doing this, but our research found that about half of respondents said their company did NOT have a formal, written policy that addresses vaping in the workplace. In short, there’s ample opportunity.

There are a few reasons why adding vaping to your no-smoking workplace policies makes sense. First, you need to protect all employees from exposure to potentially harmful particulate emissions. Second, there are risks that e-cigarette devices can explode at work, causing burns and projectile injuries to employees. From 2015 to 2017, there were an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosions and burn injuries reported in U.S. hospital emergency departments. Banning e-cigarette devices eliminates the risk posed by malfunctions in the workplace.

Finally, including e-cigarettes in your no smoking policy creates a supportive environment for quitting. Few vapers use e-cigarettes exclusively; nearly 60% of adult e-cigarettes users were also smokers according to a 2015 CDC survey. Being able to use e-cigarettes at work may prolong or intensify their addiction and make it more difficult to quit smoking. By eliminating the possibility of continuing to use e-cigarettes at work, you may increase the likelihood that smokers can quit, and stay quit. That’s good for smokers, and good for your business.

What else can employers do? In our research, 68% of respondents said their company either did not encourage e-cigarette users to quit or didn’t know if such a program existed. Yet, 61% of respondents said providing support to e-cigarette users who want to quit was very/extremely important. Adding a tobacco cessation program to your list of benefit offerings simply makes good sense.

Bottom line: vaping in the workplace is important to address, largely because vaping can impact everyone in your workforce. It’s time to add vaping language to your workplace tobacco policies—and evaluate options to add a smoking cessation program that provides tailored support to e-cigarette users and even parents of kids who vape. Your employees will thank you for it.

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