What does WHO advice mean for e-cigarettes at work?

28 August 2014 -


Global health watchdog calls for legislation to limit workplace “vaping” – but campaign group ASH thinks e-smoking is a safer alternative to tobacco

Matt Packer

Managers may be more inclined to ban staffers from using e-smoking devices indoors, following World Health Organisation (WHO) advice that has called for the practice to be formally regulated.

In a report published this week, the global watchdog said that “legal steps should be taken to end the use of e-cigarettes indoors, in public and work places”. Evidence reviewed by the organisation suggests that “exhaled e-cigarette aerosol increases the background air level of some toxicants, nicotine and particles”.

With that in mind, WHO researchers urged national governments to pass legislation that would:

1. Impede e-cigarette promotion to non-smokers and young people

2. Minimise potential health risks to e-cigarette users and non-users

3. Prohibit unproven health claims about e-cigarettes

4. Protect existing tobacco control efforts from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry

Among its findings, the report judged that there was “currently insufficient evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes help users quit smoking … Therefore, WHO currently recommends that smokers should first be encouraged to quit smoking and nicotine addiction by using a combination of already-approved treatments”.

E-smoking, or “vaping”, at work has become a hot topic in recent times. In October last year, shop attendant Michelle Capeworth was fired from her job in a Pixifoto booth in Stoke-on-Trent’s Mothercare branch, after her manager caught her using an e-cigarette. And in February this year, two of the largest employers in Uttoxeter – Tesco and JCB – both announced that they had decided to treat e-cigarettes exactly the same as standard tobacco products. As such, employees who want to use them must step outside.

In the wake of the WHO report, though, British health groups have issued different reactions. Dr Ram Moorthy, deputy chair of the Board of Science at the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “It is encouraging that the WHO shares our concerns surrounding e-cigarettes and has joined us in calling for stronger regulation. Tighter controls are needed to ensure their use does not undermine current tobacco-control measures [or] reinforce the normalcy of smoking behaviour.”

However, Action for Smoking and Health (ASH) has maintained a lenient stance on vaping as a safer alternative to tobacco, calling for a “proportionate” use of regulation. “Smoking kills 100,000 people in the UK alone,” it said. “Smokers who switch to using e-cigarettes in whole or in part are likely to substantially reduce their health risks. Although we cannot be sure that electronic cigarettes are completely safe, as the WHO acknowledges, they are considerably less harmful than smoking tobacco and research suggests that they are already helping smokers to quit.”

The campaigning group stressed that it “does not … support bringing e-cigarettes under smoke-free legislation as there is no evidence of any harm to bystanders from use of these devices. By contrast, the smoke-free law was brought in on the strength of the evidence that breathing in secondhand tobacco smoke is a proven health hazard. ASH believes that organisations should be free to determine their own policies on whether to permit or prohibit use of e-cigarettes on their premises.”

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