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I have a few coworkers in my office that vape or use e-cigarettes frequently. They do this inside while I am in the same office with them.

I am concerned about potential health concerns that may come from this.

Also, currently we aren't ever customer-facing employees; so appearance to customers would not be a concern.

There is currently no HR policy on it. I am not in HR, but I anxious to approach HR with my concerns. It is likely they don't even know about it. But raising this up will be a clear signal to my co-worker I tattled.

Taking into account that the health effects of vaping are unclear but some are concerned about them, what is a reasonable policy concerning e-cigarettes or vaping in a shared workplace? How can we balance the needs of all involved employees?


Moderator note: The health effects of vaping are off-topic on this site and discussions about that will be purged. This question is about setting a policy when there are concerns, only.

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Related Link: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/8614/are-electronic-cigarettes-a-healthier-alternative-to-regular-cigarettes/15492#15492

What should any company's policy be?

No company should subject their employees to any sort of toxic/carcinogenic fumes or vapors at any level. This is common sense. To allow this in closed offices is asinine. Any policy around chemicals induced into the workplace, especially induced by one person onto another should make the product/"thing" be proven safe by very high standards before they are accepted as suitable. The fact that some do not think there is enough evidence opposing the use of e-cigs (and the SE Skeptics site disagrees) is not even note-worthy, the proof is on the risk not the other way around.

Even if these were proved to have zero effect on humans you would be introducing allergic reactions to people and you have major fire risk. I am sorry but you even having to ask this pisses me off - for you.

I would take it up with HR right away. If they don't want to get involved get your local govt. involved.

Note: There are some comments that talk about toxicity and there aren't any studies to show effects and so on. Here is my answer to that:

  • the vapes use man made chemicals. Please show me where man-made chemicals were not toxic or harmful to breathe in.

  • vapes are a fire and explosion risk.

  • in the US OSHA already has suggested against them in the workplace.

  • to those who think they are better than cigarettes and people need them to stop smoking. First great - do it outside the workplace - love that people quit smoking. Second I would like to see what the comments are in 20-30 years. This is the first batch of e-cigs. Do you honestly think there are going to be no health issues with people inhaling these? If you do I have some stuff I need to sell you.

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    I dislike e-cigs almost as much as I dislike cigarettes, so I see where you are coming from, but seriously - a blanket statement that man made chemicals are bad is as misguided as saying all organic/natural things are good. Until we have some research, we can't really use this as an argument. – Rory Alsop Feb 23 '16 at 8:29
  • @RoryAlsop - I am not saying that all man made chemicals will kill you. But I would generally assume they are harmful until I get a mountain of evidence that is contradictory. Suffice to say, for something like vaping, this evidence would also need to include a lot of time. But out of curiosity... what man-made chemicals that we are around daily have been found neutral or good for us (discounting medication)? – blankip Oct 6 '16 at 4:15
  • There are so many it's actually funny. And so many natural chemicals that are bad for you. Numbers-wise more natural chemicals will kill you than man made ones... – Rory Alsop Oct 6 '16 at 7:39
  • Have a look at this and similar for a start point: compoundchem.com/2014/05/19/… – Rory Alsop Oct 6 '16 at 7:39
  • @RoryAlsop - might want to delete those comments because you are looking mighty mighty bad right now with all of the new findings on vaping. Good we have a mod making comments like these! – blankip Aug 29 at 15:29
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Unfortunately for you, so far there have been few (or none) proven health risks for bystanders, stemming from e-cigarettes. So you are closer to the argument of "can a coworker eat a smelly sandwich in my vicinity?" than to "is my coworker allowed to smoke next to me?".

Regardless I would approach the problem with the following steps:

  1. Talk with your coworkers.

Depending on your relationship with them, they may take notice of your concern. This can be tough especially if it turns into the case of "you v. the rest of the office". However, depending on your diplomatic skills and rapport with said coworkers this approach has a lot of benefits. In the worst case, things stay as they are and you might be persceived as "whining". There are a million and one ways to approach this so I will not even try, but I'd spend most of my time doing this or just putting up with the vaping.

  1. Talk with your Managment.

Get somebody's support from higher up, could help you enforce a no vaping policy. Here the risk of fallout with your coworkers rises, but chances of success may be higher. This also depends on your "diplomatic prowess" and rapport. Be advised the chance of alienating your coworkers increases here. It is best to use a combination approach, openly communicating with your coworkers that you are taking these steps. I personally would probably skip this step.

  1. Get a new Job

If the issue is so important to you, and attempts at bringing change to your worksplace have failed, its time to look for a different place. Remember since the health risks are probably minimal, I personally would try to bring about gradual change to the workplace culture using my jedi mind tricks and talking with my coworkers.

EDIT: There are other opinions which suggest even going to government to institute change through this. This would be appropriate if you feel that vaping is something that should be handled by law. In the case of smoking this has brought about drastic change. I would not suggest this. Even though one can't opt-in to inhaling other peoples vape; for me the risk is just too low to warrant this.

  • After re-reading the question I realize I have somewhat missed the mark: Reasonable policies depend on managment consesus on how much influence the company should have on the workday of the workforce. One can ban/limit the use of e-cigarettes due the "potential" harm / "reduced productivity" / "workplace harmony", or not and hope the workforce can sort such issues between themselves. – Underdetermined Feb 22 '16 at 16:02
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    The question is really, "Can my coworker expose me to a chemical vapor of unknown and unregulated composition which poses an unknown level of risk to my health" The assumption that the burden of proof should be on proving a hazard is false. The burden should be to prove that there is no risk to bystanders. – DLS3141 Feb 24 '16 at 17:09
  • I feel cast into a binary role of a heated debate to which i am very much apathetic; so to clarify: "I don't smoke/vape or condone such actions and certainly look down on people who do", you're asking a more general quesion, and while you make a good argument, with the sheer amount of chemicals you are being exposed to every second, it is simply impossible to ensure "proving no risk" for all. Perhaps for vaping one should; i personally am not exposed enough to care. – Underdetermined Feb 25 '16 at 7:59
  • the key here is that exposure to the unknown chemicals from vaping is avoidable and due to the personal choice of another person. The risk isn't low, it's unknown. And unless it's better defined and found to be no risk, people shouldn't be force exposed to it. – DLS3141 Mar 1 '16 at 15:59

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