You’ve seen those pesky commercials about e-cigarettes and why “we should all be adults” (the one with Stephen Dorff), and I’m sure you spent a little time thinking about whether there is a difference between e-cigs and regular tobacco products, and whether this will make a difference for you in the workplace.
This subject has been in the media quite a bit and an ensuing debate was inevitable as a result. There has been a number of companies who have now made it corporate policy to treat e-cigs the same way that traditional tobacco products are treated, and some have come out and said that with e-cigs, banning them is essentially trampling civil liberties.
There are strong points on either side, but where it matters, the advocates for banning e-cigs are winning, with landmark shifts such as the World Health Organization coming out publicly against e-cigs by asking for them to be banned in restaurants and workplaces.
It is difficult to know which side has it and where this issue will come out in the end. On one hand e-cigs are not tobacco based products that harm other through second hand smoke, on the other, they do serve as a reminder and as a symbol for an addiction that causes damage to its users and those around them. Some claim that e-cigs can be a great way for current smokers to abstain from smoking and to ease their way out of a potentially life-long addictions. While other claims that e-cigs are becoming a gateway for real tobacco cigarettes, and that some marketers target younger audiences (as it appears in this last commercial), in order to build a pipeline of nicotine addicts which might then choose to use real tobacco products later. There really isn’t ample evidence to support either case irrefutably.
For the typical HR professionals, the policy making for this issue has to be a mind job: Do you continue the standard of policy against tobacco products in the workplace, and extend it to ban all nicotine-based products? Before you answer quickly, remember that gum, lollipops, and patches designed to help people get off tobacco products all contain nicotine.
Or perhaps you decide that as long as tobacco products are not used in the workplace, then products that do not harm others are fine to be used in the workplace. It’s a tougher question than it seems. You could be the defendant of a lawsuit that claims you denied your employees’ civil liberties or you could be on the defending end of a lawsuit that claims you have created or failed to prevent an unsafe working environment.
As far as I can tell, this issue is becoming more visible and the ensuing debate is getting more intense. It might just be that it is left to a higher order body like the United States Supreme Court to decide.
Do you have any direct experience with this issue? If so tell us about in the comment section below.