Most adult smokers regard e-cigarettes as a halfway house between smoking and quitting, as these devices become increasingly popular and they deliver jolts of nicotine via water-based or aromatic vapors, without the tar, ash and carcinogens of burning tobacco. At the same time, both policy makers and employers still haven’t fully made up their minds on how to regulate these devices.
According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, some big US companies like Wal-Mart and UPS charge their employees higher insurance premiums if they are smokers, and both companies consider puffing on e-cigarettes the same as using traditional tobacco products, at least for premium accounting purposes. Cleveland Clinic, which refuses to hire smokers, similarly does not want any vapers around.
Starting with July 1, 2014, UPMC will enforce a new law that prevents its employees smoke during work shifts, even on unpaid breaks. ‘As a health care organization, giving the appearance of smoking is counter to our mission,’ said company spokesperson Gloria Kreps. ‘Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not tested the safety or effectiveness of e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking.’
According to The Wall Street Journal, CVS Caremark does not allow its employees to use electronic cigarettes on the company’s campuses; Starbucks bans the devices for both employees and customers while three states (New Jersey, Utah and North Dakota) specifically ban ecigs in the workplace, in addition to other kinds of smoking.
However, health insurers have a different opinion at the moment, as those who applied for individual ACA-related plans between October and April were merely asked about smoking and tobacco. ‘A consumer is not asked about e-cigarettes or the type of tobacco product used. It is possible that a consumer could interpret the question about tobacco to refer to e-cigarettes, but health plans do not ask about e-cigarettes,’ said Clare Krusing of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a national lobbying group for health carriers. ‘The law and regulations refer to ‘tobacco use’ and ‘tobacco products.’ There is no guidance [or] specification on e-cigarettes’.
Guidance of what has become a $2 billion industry is slowly being developed by the FDA and Congress, and some officials even admit that these devices have the ‘potential to do good’. In a recent speech, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products said ‘If we could get all of those people to switch all of their cigarettes to these products, that would be good for public health’.
However, employees are not sold on workplace vaping as 65 percent of respondents in a 2014 Harris Interactive survey, commissioned by an electronic cigarette manufacturer, told their interviewers that electronic cigarettes should not be allowed at the office. Even so, 63 %of those who answered the telephone survey said ‘they would not be bothered by someone using an electronic cigarette in close proximity.’