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Public Health England Advice

The PHE has issued advice on the use of ecigs and ecig policy making in the workplace.

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Public Health England (PHE) released their report declaring electronic cigarettes to be at least 95% safer then smoking last August. It highlighted how ecigs were England’s most popular quit tool and those using them experienced high levels of success. This week, they have followed it up with advice on the use of ecigs and ecig policy making in the workplace.

The PHE report shifted thinking in the health sector, time will tell if their latest contributions do the same for the workplace. In order to produce their draft principles for electronic cigarette policies and practice the PHE engaged in a discussion exercise with ecig stakeholders. Many vendors and forum users engaged in the latter part of the process when it was broadened to include the wider stakeholder community.

Professor Kevin Fenton from PHE said: “This new framework will encourage organisations to consider both the benefits and the risks when developing their own policies on e-cigarettes. Different approaches will be appropriate in different places, but policies should take account of the evidence and clearly distinguish vaping from smoking.”

The advice produced begins with some sage reminders: “Smoking is a uniquely harmful activity. Despite continued declines in smoking rates, it remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in England,” and, “E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and do not create smoke.”

PHE see the development of policy as balancing risks and opportunities. Even though we do not know the full implications of long-term vaping, which encourages some to want to opt for a precautionary approach, the PHE believes the ecig offers a great chance to make smoking less of a social norm and become a symbol of the rejection of traditional tobacco. Their findings informed what became their five key principles.

Key point one addresses the fundamental difference between smoking and vaping. Be it legally or clinically, vaping is not smoking and policies should reflect this. PHE encourage everyone drawing up a policy to emphasise the difference between the two, the benefits conferred through vaping and that policy makers shouldn’t use smoking terminology to describe vaping – we’ve been reading about people “smoking” their vape pens for far too long!

When PHE declared vaping to be 95% safer than smoking there was an implicit declaration regarding the danger posed to bystanders. It repeats its call for evidence-based approaches and reminds readers that there is no evidence of harm posed to third parties. Also, because vaping is not smoking it falls outside of the smokefree legislation and should not be treated as such.

They do add: “vaping can in certain circumstances be a nuisance or distraction for people nearby. Where a decision is taken to allow vaping in an enclosed place, policies could consider some simple etiquette guidelines for vapers, such as minimising the production of visible vapour.”

The third key point relates to young people. PHE remind people that the law prohibits the purchase and use of ecigs by those less than 18 years of age: “Managers of child and youth settings such as schools have a particular responsibility in managing the risk of youth uptake of e-cigarettes and might want to treat e-cigarettes as they would any other age-restricted product.”

That said, they suggest that policies should seek to support teens looking to quit smoking and highlight the benefits of adults vaping near children instead of smoking.

“E-cigarettes are used almost exclusively by smokers and ex-smokers and are now the most popular stop smoking aid in England,” so policies should recognise and celebrate people making healthier lifestyle choices. PHE say that vaping should be encouraged in order to support adults seeking to switch

“E-cigarettes have significant potential to help reduce tobacco use and the serious harm it causes to smokers, those around them and wider society. Recognition of this should be at the centre of policies on e-cigarette use in public places and workplaces.”

It is never acceptable to require vapers to share the same outdoor space with smokers. Where a designated outdoor smoking area has been provided in a public place or workplace, vapers should be allowed to vape elsewhere.” 

Many policies banning vaping tend to rely on a perceived problem for staff to distinguish between cigarettes and vaping devices: “While some e- cigarettes physically resemble cigarettes, the distinctive odour and ash of lit tobacco makes it generally easy to distinguish between someone who is vaping and someone who is smoking.”

Then, for the benefit of the uninitiated, PHE list out facts that we’ve grown accustomed to, the evidence that supports an adoption of a common sense approach to vaping policies in the workplace and public areas: “Since e-cigarettes were introduced to the market, smoking prevalence among adults and youth has declined. Hence there is no evidence to date that e-cigarettes are renormalising smoking, instead it’s possible that their presence has contributed to further declines in smoking, or denormalisation of smoking.”


Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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