The guidance goes counter to common custom and practice in the construction industry where, according to research by The Construction Index, employers generally regard vaping on e-cigarettes as no different to smoking tobacco.
As we have previously reported, contractors Willmott Dixon and Skanska, plant hire group Hewden and machinery manufacturer JCB are among construction industry companies that consider e-cigarettes to be no different from tobacco rolled in paper and have adopted policies accordingly.
However, they are wrong to do so, according to Public Health England (PHE), the government body that exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing.
In new guidance on vaping in public places1, employers are specifically told: “E-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smokefree policy.”
It adds: “Vapers should not be required to use the same space as smokers, as this could undermine their ability to quit and stay smokefree.”
PHE says that employers should make a clear distinction between vaping and smoking. “E-cigarette use does not meet the legal or clinical definitions of smoking,” the new guidance says. “Furthermore, international peer-reviewed evidence suggests that e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes and have the potential to help drive down smoking rates, denormalise smoking and improve public health. So policies need to be clear on the differences between vaping and smoking.”
In fact, companies that continue to ban vaping may actually be contributing to the early death of their employees, according to an expert independent evidence review published in 2015 by Public Health England.
Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at PHE said: “The evidence is clear that vaping is much less harmful than smoking and that e-cigarettes are helping many smokers to quit.
“This new framework will encourage organisations to consider both the benefits and the risks when developing their own policies on e-cigarettes. Different approaches will be appropriate in different places, but policies should take account of the evidence and clearly distinguish vaping from smoking.”
PHE also says that, in contrast to the known harm from exposure to secondhand smoke, there is currently no evidence of harm from secondhand e-cigarette vapour and the risks are likely to be extremely low.
Cancer Research UK supports PHE’s position, with tobacco policy manager George Butterworth saying: “E-cigarettes are still a relatively new product, so it’s understandable that many people and businesses may not know how to deal with them. The evidence so far shows e-cigarettes are much safer than tobacco and they have the potential to help people give up a deadly addiction. It’s important the benefit of using them are maximised while reducing any negative impact, and organisations need independent advice from Public Health England to set out their own policies.”
1.Use of e-cigarettes in public places and workplaces: Advice to inform evidence-based policy making (PHE publications gateway number: 2016129)