The dangers of smoking are widely known at this point, with vast amounts of funding being poured into research, anti-smoking campaigns and the treatment of related conditions. As such, finding methods of reducing the number of individuals partaking in smoking is undeniably important. An outright ban would surely annoy those who do smoke to say the least, and so those behind anti-smoking initiatives are forced to get a little creative with their approaches. Rather than simply telling someone they can no longer smoke, it is far better to find ways to incentivise them to make that decision for themselves.

The government is making a clear effort in this regard, as signified by the recent release of the Tobacco Control Plan. The plan has the ultimate goal of creating a “smokefree generation”, reducing the smoking population to just 12% of adults by the year 2022. Various methods will be employed in order to reach this eventual target, with the government pledging to “maximise the availability of safer alternatives to smoking”. Specifically, this statement is largely in regard to vaping, which has steadily grown in popularity over recent years.

The plan argues that vaping should be permitted within offices and enclosed public spaces in order to incentivise more smokers to make the switch, which will hopefully in turn lead to a healthier population. The plan makes a particular point of issuing the reminder that e-cigarettes are not actually included in the smoking ban of 2007, and asserts that because of this fact they should not be included in anti-smoking policies.

“The evidence is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco,” the plan states. “The government will seek to support consumers in stopping smoking and adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products.”

Despite the confidence displayed in the plan regarding the safety of e-cigarettes - a claim backed up by a report issued by Public Health England in August 2016 which concluded that such alternatives were 95% less harmful than conventional smoking - there does remain a fair amount of debate as to the validity of this assertion. Experts based out of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as well as those from the University of Liverpool, have claimed that the evidence used in the PHE report was flawed, and there remains little conclusive evidence of the safety of e-cigarettes.

If it were however to be conclusively proven that vaping was in fact as safe as the plan and PHE assert, I can see some immediate positive effects which would likely stem from permitting the use of such products in the office. For one, my colleague recently reported on the ongoing debate around smoking breaks throughout the working day, a debate in which words like discrimination and unfair treatment arise often. Allowing smokers to switch to an e-cigarette and vape away in the office as they work would remove this issue altogether, keeping breaks equal and the office more harmonious as a result.

That’s not to say there would be no downside – in fact there could potentially be many. Health concerns are of course worse mentioning; if it were to be revealed that the assertion by PHE was incorrect and these devices are actually harmful, allowing them in offices would only serve to increase the number of individuals exposed to harm. However evidence in support of PHE’s claim is beginning to mount, so for the purposes of this article we will continue to assume that PHE are correct.

Regardless of health concerns the plan is not without its issues. We spoke a short while back about how smells in the office can influence mood and productivity, and with the wide array of flavours and fragrances on offer for e-cigarettes this is sure to cause an issue for some. A fragrance deemed pleasant by one individual may be deemed appalling by another, and so consideration and compromise between colleagues would be necessary in order to avoid annoying or distracting your co-workers. This should be fairly simple to manage if approached in a mature manner; we are all adults after all and should be able to avoid nonsensical bickering and reach an amicable arrangement between colleagues.

I would also urge that the specifics of the office in which you are working should be taken into account when making this decision. If you work in a large, spacious office with plenty of ventilation and/or open windows, the vapour from an e-cigarette will hardly be noticeable. In a smaller, more enclosed space however, the vapour and smell may quickly become overpowering.

Overall I would say that little needs to change in regards to the regulation of such devices in an office environment at the present time. They are not included in the ban as the plan reminds us, and so individual organisations are free to set their own policies - do so with a little consideration for all affected members of staff and the correct solution will surely present itself. I would however urge some measure of caution at least until more research is conducted into the dangers of e-cigarettes, so maybe holding off for now and asking those who vape to join the smokers outside is for the best.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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