Business Group Blog

More than 30 Years Later Cigarettes are Still a Problem. Here's Why

Not long ago, you couldn’t walk into an office building without it resembling an episode of Mad Men. Employees could light up a cigarette whenever or wherever and smoking was the norm. Although things are markedly different today (smoking rates among adults are at a record low and many companies now have smoke-free policies in place), employers are still grappling with cigarettes in the workplace… electronic cigarettes that is. Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes for short, are growing in popularity around the world, leaving some employers unsure of how to adapt their current workplace policies.

Here’s what employers need to know:

  • E-cigarettes may be safer than conventional cigarettes but they’re still not safe, especially for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products. There are numerous health risks associated with e-cigarettes to users and bystanders alike, as the aerosol that users breathe from the device and then exhale contains harmful and potentially harmful substances, including nicotine. Additionally, exposure to e-cigarette liquids is dangerous; side effects from ingesting or making skin or eye contact can result in seizures, vomiting or even death. More research is needed to understand the long-term effects of use and exposure.
  • E-cigarettes can be a gateway to conventional cigarette use among non-smokers; can lead to relapse in smokers who have previously quit; and can discourage the use of proven quit methods. Consider the stats: Among adult e-cigarette users in the U.S. in 2018, 8.6% never previously used cigarettes, 24.7% are former cigarette smokers and 45.2% are current cigarette smokers. Similarly, global statistics suggest that the majority of adults using e-cigarettes are current cigarette users.
  • Evidence on the efficacy of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation is inconclusive. Although some studies suggest that e-cigarettes help smokers quit smoking compared to placebo, current evidence is insufficient to recommend e-cigarettes for tobacco cessation. The World Health Organization and the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that clinicians direct patients who smoke tobacco to other cessation interventions with established effectiveness and safety. It is expected that the next European Commission will propose strengthening regulations for e-cigarettes in the EU Tobacco Products Directive.

For the above reasons, employers should include e-cigarettes in smoke-free policies. Additionally, organizations should consider educating employees on the harms of e-cigarettes - including dispelling any myths that they are safe - and increasing communication about proven tobacco cessation interventions.

*Data and Information Source: Presentation to the National Business Group on Health on May 22, 2019 by Brian King, PhD, Deputy Director for Research Translation, Office on Smoking and Health, NCCDPHP