Reader: I work for a performing arts organization. Over the past two years, several employees have taken up vaping. When they first started, there was constant unchecked vaping in all workspaces. After an initial pushback, some simple ground rules were set, primarily that there was not to be any indoor vaping.
Over the past few months, the vaping has started to creep back indoors. The main offender is one of my bosses, who uses nicotine-free vape liquid. He does not understand why there would be a problem with it as "it's just steam." But he uses very strong scented flavors that linger in the room long after use. There have been reports of him vaping in bathrooms, small offices, even closets. Since he and the others are not breaking any laws that I know of, I am at a loss for what to do. Any advice on how to proceed would be appreciated!
Karla: Although the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes on users or bystanders have not been fully determined, common sense suggests that if you can smell it, it ain’t “just steam” your boss is blowing. But don’t take your nose’s word for it; scientific studies of e-cigarette use thus far have raised concerns about the potential health effects of solvents and flavorings in vaping liquids as they are heated and become airborne. And the U.S. surgeon general has concluded: “E-cigarette aerosol is not harmless ‘water vapor.’ ”
Although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has recommended that e-cigarettes be banned from all workplaces, restrictions on e-cigarette use have largely been left up to state and local governments and individual businesses. And there are arguments in favor of allowing vaping in the workplace: It arguably improves productivity by eliminating the need for cigarette breaks, and some smokers trying to quit the habit find vaping a helpful steppingstone. But what about the productivity of people who are sensitive to fragrances and airborne particles? And why is it necessary to allow indoor vaping as a smoking-cessation aid when less obtrusive remedies — patches, gum, pretzel sticks — are available?
You could launch a crusade to educate your fellow performing arts enthusiasts about the health effects of huffing the same chemicals that have sickened microwave popcorn factory workers and theater professionals exposed to fog machines. But why go to that trouble when your workplace has already banned indoor vaping? It’s time to demand enforcement of your workplace rules from anyone in a position to grant it — HR, the owner, a union, the board of directors — anonymously or with a coalition of like-minded sufferers, if you fear singling yourself out for retaliation. Indoor vapers in your workplace are willfully violating company policy, and they’re in the wrong — as your closet-puffing boss clearly knows.
PRO TIP: As of this writing, about a dozen states and territories and hundreds of local governments prohibit e-cigarettes everywhere traditional smoking is banned.