Understanding employment laws around e-cigarettes


The use of e-cigarettes and vaping has become increasingly popular in the UK, both as an alternative to smoking and helping those to quit smoking altogether.

There are 9 million smokers in the UK and 2.8 million that use e-cigarettes, otherwise known as vaping. Whilst smokers will tend to nip in and out of the office to smoke, the rules of vaping are not as clear, which is why we explain the employment laws surrounding this below.

The business can decide

In practice, businesses can actually decide whether or not they allow e-cigarettesand vaping in the office. There are reasons for allowing it – such as the way it can help people replace smoking and keep them in the office for longer, rather than go out for a smoke every hour or two. There is also proof that it is less harmful than smoking, so many business owners are willing to accept it.

The reasons against allowing vaping in the office is because there is still little research over the long term use of vaping and the potential it could have on people around them, in the form of passive smoking. This is of particular concern for the disabled, elderly, young people, pregnant and those with recurring health issues.

Other managers consider it a potential fire or smoke hazard, find the odour or appearance distasteful and also find it a distraction in the workplace. There is also the argument of where you draw the line – if you can be using vaping products, why can’t you smoke a real cigarette too?

Establishing policies

Public Health England (PHE) declared in 2016 the need to have policies for vaping in the workplace. This includes having rules that outline whether vaping is permitted or not and under what circumstances. All stakeholders in the organisation should have an understanding of whether e-cigarettes are permitted or not and this can be reinforced through the use of signs, written declarations and official company policies.

PHE recommends that companies in the UK move towards having a smoke-free environment, providing employees with evidence of the health risks associated with smoking and around young people too.

Companies should also try give their staff ongoing support to help them quit smoking, whether it is through subsidised alternatives, counselling and putting forward the work of NHS Smoke Free and similar organisations.

Should companies wish to engage in policies that allow smoking, they may be able to offer smoking gazebos or designated areas outside of the premises. Similarly, to avoid disruption from work, employers can set specific smoking hours or smoking breaks at parts of the day.

Employers can also introduce a warning system, fines or disciplinary action for any employee that breaks the rules relating to smoking and vaping. This should also be highlighted in the company policy that all staff members should be aware of.