Employers grappling with surge of e-cigarette popularity

Some of the region’s largest employers are expanding their no-smoking policies to cover electronic cigarettes just as the popularity of the tobacco-free devices surges.

A national organization of human-resources professionals advises members that there are some perfectly valid reasons to ban e-cigarettes, but also warns of backlash from employees who are using the products in order to quit smoking. E-cigarette entrepreneurs — who have opened nearly a dozen “vapor shops” in southwest and west-central Ohio and who are promising dozens more — say it’s unfair to treat e-cigarettes the same as tobacco.

The region’s largest employer, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, considers e-cigarettes to be the same as tobacco products, according to Bill Hancock, a base spokesman. All tobacco products and e-cigarettes are prohibited in Air Force installations except in designated smoking areas or in housing units.

The use of tobacco “damages personal health and detracts from unit mission readiness” and “reflects poorly on professional image (and) appearance,” Hancock wrote in response to an email inquiry. And the Air Force’s tobacco policy includes e-cigarettes just as it does smokeless tobacco products, the spokesman said.

Community Mercy Health Partners, Wright State University, Sinclair Community College and Kettering Health Network are among the region’s other employers that already include e-cigarettes in their no-smoking policies. An e-cigarette cartridge is filled with a flavored nicotine liquid, which becomes an inhalable vapor when heated by the battery-powered device.

Tim Dutton, vice president of human resources for Kettering Health Network, said allowing e-cigarettes would create confusion in the enforcement of the network’s no-smoking policy because the practice “would create a public impression that cigarette smoking is condoned.”

CareSource and the University of Dayton officials said they are reviewing their smoking policies to determine whether e-cigarettes should be added to the list of prohibited products. And while Montgomery County’s employee policies don’t currently mention e-cigarettes, “We will be including e-cigarettes in our no smoking policy” soon, a spokeswoman for the county said.

It’s a growing trend, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

There are several reasons to ban e-cigarettes in the workplace: employers accustomed to a smoke-free workplace might not want to allow employees to appear as if they are smoking cigarettes; employees who see co-workers use e-cigarettes will question why they can’t; and some employees might say that they are allergic to the vapor.

But attorneys who specialize in workplace issues told the SHRM that employers should first weigh the costs and benefits of an outright ban because they run the risk of backlash from employees who are using the products to help wean themselves off tobacco. Some who rely on e-cigarettes in the workplace may do so because they are trying to quit smoking, meaning e-cigarettes may help workers smoke fewer tobacco cigarettes.

Ohio’s smoking ban is limited to tobacco products and does not cover e-cigarettes, which were developed in China and entered the U.S. market in 2007. Since then, sales and popularity have jumped. The percentage of smokers who have tried e-cigarettes rose from 2 percent in 2010 to as high as 30 percent in 2012.

Advocates and retailers say e-cigarettes can ease the craving for nicotine without the user inhaling tar and other harmful chemicals found in tobacco. But public health officials are concerned that nicotine is being delivered in a form that may lure children and adolescents.

Ohio already bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and the FDA last month proposed a nationwide ban on sales to minors as well as regulations that would require warning labels and approval for new products. But the agency stopped short of proposing product standards or restrictions on flavorings.

On Tuesday, the American Medical Association called for reining in the sale and marketing practices of e-cigarette companies, calling for restrictions of flavors that appeal to minors and a prohibition of what an AMA news release called “unsupported marketing claims as a tobacco cessation tool.”

The movement toward regulating e-cigarettes seems to be gaining momentum on the municipal-government level as well. Chicago has banned e-cigarette smoking indoors, and Philadelphia prohibits “vaping” in the workplace. Last week, Oberlin, Ohio’s city council approved legislation banning the use of e-cigarettes in public.

Chris Voudris, who opened his first Vapor Haus shop in Dayton in late 2013 and his second shop in Kettering three weeks ago, said it’s unfair to treat his store’s products as tobacco.

“An e-cigarette should not be lumped in with a traditional cigarette, because it’s simply not one,” Voudris said. “There is not a single second-hand effect from electronic cigarettes.

“I believe that people should be respectable and abide by rules set out by each individual place. If someone were to politely ask me to not ‘vape’ inside a public place, I would be all right with putting the e-cigarette down and waiting for the appropriate time.”


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