Legislation under the Health Act 2006 that prohibits smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces, on public transport and in vehicles used for work does not cover the use of e-cigarettes. The devices do not burn tobacco or create smoke but work by vaporising a flavoured liquid for the user to inhale, which is why their use is referred to as 'vaping'.
While debate continues about the absolute level of safety of e-cigarettes, the consensus across England's public health community is that they are significantly safer for users than smoked tobacco. Nor is there any evidence so far of harm caused by second-hand e-cigarette vapour.
Smokers in Great Britain are increasingly using e-cigarettes to help them quit. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 6.3 per cent of people reported that they were using an e-cigarette, which equates to approximately 3.2 million vapers in the population.
Public Health England (PHE) has published guidance setting out the key principles that should guide policy making on the use of e-cigarettes in public places and in the workplace. The framework is aimed at helping employers create policies that will support smokers trying to give up the habit whilst managing any risks specific to their setting. Clearly, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach as working environments vary. For example, a factory or warehouse is a very different setting from a nursery school, so a different approach will be appropriate in each case.
The five key principles are:
- Make clear the distinction between vaping and smoking;
- Ensure policies are informed by the latest evidence on health risks to bystanders;
- Identify and manage risks of uptake by children and young people;
- Support smokers to stop smoking and stay smoke free;
- Support compliance with smoke-free law and policies.
Under each heading, the guidance provides considerations to enable employers to produce a policy that is suited to their particular working environment.
PHE is committed to continuing to monitor the evidence on e-cigarette use and to communicating its findings so that members of the public and policy makers have the knowledge they need to make informed decisions.