Legislation and employer policy have addressed tobacco use in the workforce, but today the CDC reports that the number of Americans who vape is rapidly catching up to those who smoke. Employers who haven’t reviewed their policies will be at risk going forward, so it’s time to dust off the old smoking policies and take a fresh look at them.
The problem is multifaceted. Most employers consider vaping smoking but their policies don’t address it. Employers and HR professionals across the board express confusion about the health risks associated with vaping, and rightfully so: Johns Hopkins Medicine calls vaping unhealthy and addictive, while the World Health Organization grades e-cigarettes as safer than smoking traditional cigarettes. The United States Surgeon General categorizes e-cigarettes as tobacco products and 19 states have prohibited electronic smoking devices in smoke-free environments. To add complication, the CDC and FDA need more information before they can provide insight into the safety of vaping, but the CDC states that vaping is beneficial for former smokers and harmful for everyone else.
Recommendations for employers are still ambiguous due to a lack of information on the long-term effects of vaping, which makes it challenging to calculate healthcare costs, absenteeism, and risk to the public. Here are some of the most pressing questions employers are asking about vaping and the use of e-cigarettes among employees and the answers based on the information available to date.
Q. Do employees who vape incur higher healthcare costs than those who don’t?
Possibly. Employees who have never smoked or vaped are at lowest risk of health problems, followed by those who vape and then by those who smoke. If a smoker converts completely to e-cigarettes, it may lower healthcare costs to the organization, but if a non-smoker begins using e-cigarettes, it may increase healthcare costs.
Q. Does vaping in public areas pose a risk to the public?
Possibly. Secondhand aerosol contains harmful substances including nicotine and other toxins known to cause cancer. In fact, at least 10 of the chemicals in secondhand aerosol are listed on California’s Proposition 65. Employers should check state and local law when making decisions regarding the use of vaping devices on public property and near entrances.
Q. Do tobacco policies cover the use of e-cigarettes?
Possibly. In 19 states, e-cigarettes are considered tobacco products for the sake of smoke-free environment policy, but it is still recommended that employers who choose to prohibit vaping address e-cigarette use in their internal policies for clarity and consistency.
Q. Should employees who use e-cigarettes pay higher healthcare insurance premiums if employees who use tobacco do?
Possibly. Some employers consider vapers smokers for purposes of calculating insurance premiums, but it’s important to note that there is no evidence that vaping poses long-term health risks. Furthermore, the CDC reports that vaping is a safer alternative for current smokers, so switching from smoking to vaping might decrease healthcare costs. It may be a little premature to increase insurance premiums for vapers considering the lack of evidence that vaping equates to increased healthcare costs.
Employers who haven’t addressed vaping in their workforce should make it a priority.
- Make decisions about the allowance or prohibition of vaping on premises.
- Revise tobacco policies so they provide clear guidance on vaping in the workplace or on the grounds.
- Prioritize employee health through wellness and tobacco cessation programs.
Scott is President of Wellco, based in Michigan. Scott is a frequently- invited expert and speaker regarding making sense of employer health care strategies. Scott and Wellco have developed award-winning, result-oriented systems to measurably improve employer health conditions and costs. For more information or a free consultation, contact Wellco.
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