E-cigarettes are used by many as an aid to cutting down or quitting cigarette use.
They work by providing a clear liquid vapour containing nicotine which is inhaled. Although e-cigarettes contain nicotine, as they do not contain any lit tobacco, they are not technically covered by the current smoking ban.
The British Medical Association (BMA) wants the smoking ban extended to cover the vapour from e-cigarettes and companies to prohibit the use of them in the workplace.
One of their concerns is the lack of any data showing the impact on the health of users or of those nearby who inhale the vapour.
Therefore, as the e-cigarettes are not currently covered by the smoking ban, it is up to you to decide whether or not to cover them in your smoking policy.
Potentially, they are useful in helping your employees reduce the number of cigarettes and may help keep them more focused on work instead of any nicotine craving. However, the use of e-cigarettes could also cause potential problems.
The vapour from these devices looks like smoke and it can cause confusion for your dental staff and your visiting patients about where smoking is allowed, or even to the extent of questioning if your dental practice is complying with the smoking ban.
It could also potentially become difficult to address any apparent breaches of the existing smoking ban.
It is argued that, as the long-term impact of these devices are not known, you run the risk of storing up trouble for the future if you allow the use of them, especially if they are later found to be harmful to the user or others exposed to second hand vapour, including any pregnant employees or patients and their unborn children.
Therefore, given the lack of information available on the impact of these devices, it may be safer to treat them the same way as normal cigarettes.
Policies work most effectively when they are clear and simple to understand.
Your dental staff should already know the policy in relation to normal cigarettes so expanding the policy will mean that there is no confusion.
Whatever you decide about the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace, you need to set the position out clearly within your policy and ensure that it is fully communicated to your dental staff, taking the opportunity to reiterate any consequences if anything is breached.
If you are going to ban them alongside normal cigarettes then your policy needs to say that specifically. If you have any designated smoking areas then your dental staff will be able to use e-cigarettes there just as they would normal cigarettes.
Make it clear that the use of e-cigarettes in any other area will be treated in the same way as smoking normal cigarettes. If you are inclined to allow the use of e-cigarettes then your policy needs to set out what restrictions, if any, you want to place on where they can be used and the frequency.
Peninsula Business Services is one of the leading provider of employment law and health and safety services in the UK. They have partnered with The Business of Dentistry to bring comprehensive HR, employment law and health and safety services to dental practices. To find out more, visit www.bodhub.co.uk/hrplus.