E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes but that doesn’t mean we should allow vaping in enclosed workplaces, despite growing pressure from the vaping industry for employers and public transport providers to allow it in enclosed spaces where it is currently banned.
Vaping is now huge in Britain. Although the number of smokers in the UK has been falling since 1974, this country is now the world’s second biggest vape market after the US.
A couple of months ago, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee produced a report on e-cigarettes. The press led with reports that the committee had recommended letting people “vape in offices and buses” or “ending the ban on vaping in public places”.
In fact the report said no such thing. All it did was recommend that there should be a “wider debate on how e-cigarettes are to be dealt with in our public places”.
The TUC has always been clear where we stand on vaping, which is that there should be no use of e-cigarettes in workplaces where smoking is prohibited. You can read our guidance here .
In part, that is because of the potential health dangers. We don’t dispute that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and that when used in the place of traditional cigarettes they reduce exposure to many toxicants and carcinogens. Our guidance recommends that employers should encourage their use as a way of helping people to stop smoking.
But they are not without health risks – and the long-term effects of e-cigarettes on health remain unclear. I am not going to go over all the evidence here, but it is pretty clear that it will be years before we know the exact health risks and benefits. Until then, I don’t think that non-vaping workers should be used as human guinea-pigs to find out how harmful e-cigarettes actually are.
The second reason is that we should all be entitled to breath clean air at work, not anyone else’s second-hand smoke.
One of the arguments used for allowing vaping in workplaces is that it will encourage tobacco smokers to stop, but there is no evidence that workplace vaping bans are a barrier to quitting smoking. If I genuinely thought that allowing vaping in enclosed workplaces would help reduce the number of people dying from smoking cigarettes then I would back it tomorrow. But I don’t really understand how allowing people to vape in areas where they could not smoke anyway is going to encourage them to stop smoking. All it does is “normalise” the use of a highly addictive drug, and it may lead to some young people who do not currently smoke taking up vaping.
In reality there is no demand from employers or workers to allow vaping in enclosed areas like offices, factories, shops, or public transport. Quite the opposite. The main pressure seems to be coming from the vaping industry, much of which is owned by the large tobacco companies – who are not really known for their history of openness and honesty.
Internationally, there is also a growing movement away from allowing uncontrolled vaping. The World Health Organisation called for a ban on the use of e-cigarettes indoors in 2014. In the EU there are now restrictions on vaping in some enclosed spaces in Germany, Poland and Luxemburg. In Australia, New South Wales has just become the fifth state to fine anyone caught vaping in public spaces or on public transport, while there are state-wide restrictions on public vaping in twelve US states.
Unions should of course work with employers to support any workers who want help to quit smoking. That can include measures such as having outside vaping areas separate from any smoking area, but I find it hard to see any benefit to anyone in allowing vaping in places where smoking is already banned.
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