Should E-Cigarettes Be In The Workplace?

 Here’s what every employer and employee needs to know about the cost benefits of allowing e-smoking at work

No_SmokingHard to believe that it was not that long ago that cigarettes were as much a part of the office routine as paper and pens. It was a time when corporate America was engulfed in smoke and tar from employees puffing away at their desks. But times have indeed changed. Nowadays, it seems like the closest you will get to office smoking is when Don Draper lights up on Mad Men.

However, now a new debate is arising on how to handle an alternative to traditional cigarettes in the office, e-cigarettes. Since e-smoking emits harmless water vapor, rather than dangerous smoke, with a mixture of dangerous chemicals,  supporters of using e-cigarettes in the workplace are urging companies to allow these devices as a way of improving productivity.

As you can imagine, there are those who are against it saying that it’s similar to regular smoking and can actually be a potential problem.

When a business is creating a smoking policy, they must consider both the health and safety of their employees, as well as the critical effect it has on productivity. That is why cigarettes were banned from offices in the recent past. But e-cigarettes are a whole different story.

Although a quick 10 to 15 minute smoke break may not seem like a big deal when looked at individually, the lost productivity adds up substantially over the course of a year, driving up a business’s basic level costs.

For instance, according to an article in the New York Times (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/the-cost-of-a-smoker-5816/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1), a private employer pays an extra $5,816 per year for each employee who smokes compared to a nonsmoking worker. Not surprisingly, the majority of this excess annual cost ($3,077) comes from taking smoke breaks. Smokers took an average of 5 breaks per day – whereas nonsmokers only took 3, as sanctioned for most workers.

The second largest reason for the excess expense of hiring smokers ($2,056) is directly related to health care, with the remaining costs tied to absenteeism amongst employees who smoked. Researchers found that smokers miss approximately two and a half more workdays each year than their nonsmoking coworkers.

So while it seems obvious as to why cigarette smoking was banned in the office, where do e-cigarettes fit in? How should businesses handle e-smoking?

A growing number of businesses are being proactive and taking steps to handle the growing number of employees who are switching to e-cigarettes by amending their company policies. They realize that from a common sense perspective, allowing e-cigarettes will encourage an employee’s productivity.

However, there are companies that have gone the other way by including e-cigarettes in their organization’s smoking ban. As an example, many train, rail, and airline companies prohibit e-smoking to avoid any potential passenger confusion.

However, a great number of businesses are on the fence about how to treat e-cigarettes. A major reason for this is there are no definitive long term studies showing the effects on productivity.

But there is quite a bit of short term evidence that productivity is increased.  In an article from the Examiner, (http://www.examiner.com/article/electronic-cigarettes-the-workplace-could-they-boost-productivity) the author calculates that if 10 workers take five, 10-minute smoke breaks per day –and factoring in the national average hourly wage– the productivity loss would total at least $50,000 annually.

Overall, the author of the article estimates that allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace could recover $100,000 annually in productivity per every 10 employees who smoke.

More and more businesses are taking a closer look at e-cigarettes and discovering that allowing them in the workplace can be beneficial to productivity. However, the role of e-smoking in your office will depend on your specific company.

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