employers and ecigarettes

Employers and E-Cigarettes

The Issues

Can an employer permit or prohibit e-cigarette use on their premises, indoor or outdoor?

Yes, an employer can do either.  E-Cigarettes are not covered by smoking legislation since they have no connection with tobacco cigarettes except a visual similarity: there is no tobacco, no ignition, no combustion, and no smoke. An electronic cigarette creates a form of low-temperature steam. It has more similarities to a medical nicotine inhaler than a tobacco cigarette, although there are significant differences; for example a visibility ingredient has been added to the vapour so that it can be seen; and as the vapour is designed to feel like smoke, the device heats the vapour.

Employers can prohibit any activity on their property as that is the right of any property owner.  Employers can also allow e-cig use without penalty since there is no applicable legislation.


As regards the prohibition of what might be considered a harmless activity, it seems likely that some form of documentation would be required since otherwise a prohibition might not be legally valid with respect to employment law or disciplinary action.  The use of an electronic cigarette is analogous to drinking coffee, in that the health issues are similar although the aroma from coffee will usually be stronger than that from an e-cigarette.

Is it safe?

There is no evidence that there is any potential for harm.

There have been many electronic cigarette studies over the years and not one shows any evidence of actual harm. The ingredients are all either medically approved for inhalation and used in inhalers, or are considered harmless.

  • The main ingredient used as the carrier in the refills, PG, is used for the same purpose in asthma inhalers and the nebulisers used by lung transplant patients. It can be used without implications by those in the most fragile health and with the most serious lung issues. Its use is actually considered beneficial due to its
    powerful bactericidal and virucidal properties, which is why it is also used in building air conditioning plant, and thus why people in large buildings do not get Legionnaire’s Disease now unless maintenance has been neglected.
  • Nicotine is not appreciably more harmful than coffee and there is absolutely no medical evidence anywhere to contradict this.  Nicotine does not cause cancer, indeed it does not cause any disease; and there are more than 150 clinical trials over almost 30 years that clearly demonstrate this. There are infrequent cases of a heart condition such as arrythmia caused by over-consumption as a result of chronic abuse such as (for example) excess consumption of nicotine gum over decades.
  • Flavourings are not likely to cause disease in significant number. As an example, a particular chocolate flavouring may result in intolerance for some individuals but this is not considered a significant health threat.
  • Glycerine can also be included to increase the vapour volume. Since it is now considered the best inert excipient (diluent or carrier material) for inhalable medicines, we may exclude it as a health hazard. Glycerine has numerous medical approvals for inhalation.  There are no other significant ingredients. Any toxins or contaminants would be detected by the regular analyses carried out by Trading Standards, who now inspect e-cigarettes more vigorously than many other consumer products.

Our advice would be to make sure you follow our guides, to make sure you are using your electronic cigarette correctly.


Aren’t e-cigarettes unregulated and untested?

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the opposite is true:

The UK is the only country in the world where e-cigarettes are comprehensively and efficiently regulated.  Any statement to the contrary is either a declaration of ignorance, or an outright lie with some sort of commercial agenda.

All consumer products are regulated in the UK by the Trading Standards authority and others with a specific mission (such as the MHRA in connection with health claims), and Trading Standards have a regularised program of inspection of e-cigarette retailers and UK registered websites. Electronic cigarettes must comply with about a dozen consumer protection, electrical safety, materials labelling, materials packaging, freedom from contamination, and marketing laws. Trading Standards inspect, test and analyse e-cigarettes and refills, and oversee general marketing issues; the MHRA ensure that specific marketing claims regarding health are monitored.

No contaminants have been found in the Trading Standards testing program, although product recalls have been made due to labelling issues and certification issues (i.e. for minor issues of no real consequence).  Due to the current interest in e-cigarettes and the surrounding debate, we believe that the products receive more attention from the inspectors than many other consumer products.

Trading Standards work together with the Dept of Business and the trade association, ECITA, to ensure compliance with all of the many regulations that apply.

What are the measured effects of e-cig use?

Clinical studies are now starting to be conducted both on e-cigaretteuse and the exhaled vapour, and several things are apparent:

  • No changes whatsoever are noted in blood chemistry, in contrast to smoking. There is a small increase in the nicotine level in the blood, but usually far lower than that noted in smokers.  E-cigarettes tend to supply less nicotine than tobacco cigarettes, and in some cases the amounts are significantly lower.
  • The nicotine in exhaled vapour varies from ‘none detected’ to parts per billion. This is so low that only the most sensitive new Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry machines can detect it.
  • These levels are millions of times lower than can be compared with the amount in everyone’s body from the normal diet.  Note carefully that everyone tests positive for nicotine since it is part of the normal diet.
  • Air quality measurements in clinical studies of special rooms where e-cigarettes were being used showed no significant quantity of toxic or harmful materials. All compounds detected were in such minuscule amounts that they were actually lower than in city streets or new buildings.


E-Cigarette positives

  • E-cigarette users are ex-smokers who no longer take smoke breaks. Employers gain considerable work time over the month compared to those who still smoke.
  • Smokers are at risk of poor health and possible time off work; e-cigarette
    users have no such risk.
  • Smokers going outside to take smoke breaks do not improve the company image for visitors, as smokers congregate near entrances to the building.
  • People who need nicotine, need nicotine. Their cognitive function, memory and work capacity are improved. Actually what they need is an increase in the dietary provision – something recognised as completely normal where other dietary ingredients are concerned.
  • There is evidence that e-cigarette users perform better than other staff. They are calmer and work harder. They are better motivated and less inclined to under-perform. We have received anecdotal evidence of this; we have not seen contradictory evidence. It might be noted that there are multiple clinical trials that show nicotine improves work capacity.
  • E-cigarette users are likely to be more content, for several reasons including lowering of stress.
  • Groups of smokers taking breaks outside add to the scuttlebutt gossip within a firm, and a considerable part of the rumour mill is driven by such cliques; e-cigarette users are removed from those groups.
  • Eventually, 50% (or more) of smokers are likely to be e-cigarette owners. It may be better to plan ahead for this situation, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.


User etiquette

An e-cigarette owner can use their device in a multitude of different ways. These vary from undetectable through to overt over-production of vapour.

  • ‘Stealth mode’: a user can operate the device in such a way as to be completely undetectable. A small and unobtrusive device could be used (such as one that resembles a small pen); a refill with low vapour potential can be chosen; a refill with low flavouring and potential for detection by odour can be chosen; short draws can be taken, that result in little vapour production; the vapour can be held in, or exhaled through a paper towel. All these methods of surreptitious use can be employed in order that use is completely invisible and undetectable. Indeed, it would even be possible for a skilled user to do this while being observed on CCTV without detection. There is no observable difference between discreet small-format e-cig use and use of a small medical inhaler, both being able to be hidden from external view or detection.
  • Normal use: the owner appears to operate the device in the same way as a regular cigarette (although there is some difference in the optimal mode of inhalation). They will appear to be ‘smoking’ when closely observed, if using a device that is made to resemble a tobacco cigarette. As the vapour disperses rapidly and has none of the acrid and pervasive odour of tobacco smoke, it is only detectable within a metre or two.
  • Overt and excessive vapour production: a user in ‘show off’ mode can produce clouds of vapour. This requires a powerful (and probably large) model; a refill that has high vapour potential; and deliberate production of excess vapour.

For practical reasons, it would be impossible to enforce a complete ban on e-cigarette use, since it is impossible to detect use under all conditions. Users could certainly be required to act responsibly, though.

There are some flavours that may be more detectable than others when in close proximity to an electronic cigarette user. It is reasonable to ask that an e-cigarette owner not use such strong flavours if objections are made. Instead of using cinnamon or similar they can use any of the other hundreds of flavours now available.

It is reasonable to ask people to use an e-cigarette in a responsible manner, as with any aspect of conduct at work

Code of Conduct For E-Cigarette Use At Work

  1. Do not use refill liquids with a strong aroma that may cause others to take offence. Mild flavours should be chosen for consumption at work.
  2. Responsible use is required. This means:
  3. Creating large clouds of vapour is not acceptable. Vapour should be minimised.
  4. Deliberately blowing vapour towards colleagues is not acceptable.
  5. Usage in a way that may cause offence to others is not acceptable.


Forward Planning For Employers

A forward-looking employer might want to capitalise on the situation and maximise benefits.

The health benefits from switching from smoking to e-cigarettes are probably the most significant that an employer could possibly encourage; and it might be kept in mind that attempting to switch to an e-cigarette is far more successful than attempting to quit.

An employer might for example provide a specific e-cigarette usage area within the cafeteria; or, an e-cigarette lounge; assistance for smokers who need mentoring in order to successfully switch from smoking to e-cigarette use; or other benefits for the significant proportion of employees who will eventually be e-cigarette consumers.  Such employees are a valuable asset since they are shown to perform well, and do not suffer from the health issues that might affect smokers (generally about 20% of the workforce, though far higher in some professions). At quarter 4 of 2012, 6% of smokers have already switched to an electronic cigarette.

Note that e-cigarettes are not a tobacco product as they do not contain tobacco. The nicotine could come from any vegetable source or be synthesised, the tobacco plant is simply used because it is the cheapest commercial source of nicotine.

E-cigarette use is not related to tobacco consumption; e-cigarettes are a standard consumer product of the same class as food, classified by HMRC as as a GSP (General Sales Product), and regulated as a consumer product (except more strictly, in practice).

There are no known health implications for use, no legal or health connection with smoking, and no applicable legislation.


Every firm has e-cigarette users. There are likely to be many more than management is aware of.

At some point in the future there will be about ten times the current numbers. It may be better to plan for this than ignore it.

E-cigarette users are valuable members of staff for several reasons. It may be better to acknowledge this instead of aggravating them unnecessarily.

Other staff may have unfounded reasons for objecting to e-cigarette use. In particular, they may not realise that nicotine is a harmless ingredient in their diet and has no implications whatsoever in such small dietary quantities – and even less so for the almost undetectable quantities in some (but not all) exhaled vapour.

The best E-cigarette should be required to comply with normal social behaviour at work. Just as staff cannot expect to freely curse audibly, shout loudly, refuse to wash, or belch (etc.) audibly without expectation of some form of reproach, they also cannot expect to generate excess clouds of vapour or use strong-smelling flavours without complaint.

There is a moral issue regarding forcing a non-smoker (as an e-cigarette user is) to congregate regularly with smokers. Being forced into close proximity with smokers, as would be the case for an e-cigarette user required to take ‘smoke breaks’ along with smokers, is morally wrong as it may expose them to a risk they have ceased.

In some jurisdictions this may result in litigation, although this is unlikely in the UK; nevertheless it is unfair and unjust.

Staff need to behave responsibly in the working environment; but as long as they do so, e-cigarette use should be seen as a positive factor rather than a negative. A growing number of employers officially permit e-cigarette use at work and there have been no negative reports about such firms; there may be a growing number of high quality employees who seek out such firms.