Christine Lorenzo, president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), wrote last week to the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to suggest that a forthcoming bulletin on workplace smoking should either include e-cigs in its definition of smokeless tobacco, or cover them specifically.
As it stands, the draft NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin on workplace tobacco policies – a publication intended “to disseminate new scientific information about occupational hazards” – simply acknowledges that the science on health effects of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as e-cigs is unclear, and that further research is needed.
It recommends, however, that workplaces should be completely tobacco-free, with use of all tobacco products prohibited in all indoor areas at least – and ideally across an employer’s entire campus, including outside space. Employers should also offer and promote help with smoking cessation for workers and their families, it says.
It is these measures – which are only recommendations, and not binding on employers – that the AIHA wants to see extended to e-cigs.
“Because e-cigarettes are a potential source of pollutants (such as airborne nicotine, flavorings, and thermal degradation products), it would be appropriate for their use in the indoor occupational environment to be restricted, consistent with current smoking bans, until, and unless, research documents that they will not significantly increase the risk of adverse health effects to occupants,” wrote Lorenzo, whose organisation represents 10,000 members in occupational and environmental health and safety. Its position was developed by a working group dedicated to e-cigs.
Smoking in U.S. workplaces is particularly prevalent in construction, mining, and accommodation and food services, with more than 30% of workers in those sectors using tobacco according to 2004-2011 figures, says NIOSH.
NIOSH’s draft bulletin, entitled Promoting Health and Preventing Disease and Injury Through Workplace Tobacco Policies, is available online. AIHA, meanwhile, says it is “very close” to publishing a white paper entitled Electronic Cigarettes in the Indoor Environment.
What This Means: E-cig bans have come into force in many workplaces and will arrive in many more, whatever NIOSH says. But if it does decide to recommend them, whether by (somewhat illogically) treating e-cigarettes as smokeless tobacco or by addressing them specifically, that will make it much harder to argue against exemptions for e-cigs (for example, permitting outside use) – and subtly add to their association with tobacco in many people’s minds.
– Barnaby Page ECigIntelligence staff
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