Illnesses, Deaths Tied to Vaping

Is it time to rethink your workplace policy on e-cigarettes?

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek September 6, 2019
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The use of electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, is believed to be responsible for five deaths and 450 severe lung injuries in what appears to be a nationwide epidemic, according to new reports.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated and produce vapor that simulates smoking. They can resemble regular cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, USB sticks and other everyday items. They do not burn tobacco, but the device heats a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals.

While most employers ban smoking in the workplace, their policies don't always extend to e-cigarette products. However, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health alert on Aug. 30 warned that severe pulmonary disease is associated with using e-cigarette products. The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched a multistate investigation into the lung illnesses on Aug. 1. 

"Although more investigation is needed to determine the vaping agent or agents responsible," wrote Dr. David C. Christiani of the Harvard School of Medicine, "there is clearly an epidemic that begs for an urgent response." He shared his comments in the Sept. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, along with the preliminary report "Pulmonary Illness Related to E-Cigarette Use in Illinois and Wisconsin." 

The CDC is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, states and other public health partners and clinicians to determine what is sickening users, and in some cases resulting in fatalities. On Friday, it suggested that people refrain from using e-cigarette products during its investigation.

SHRM Online has collected the following articles about this topic from its archives and other trusted sources.  

5 Deaths Linked to Vaping. Officials Are Urging Consumers to Stop.

As the number of deaths related to a mystery respiratory illness linked to vaping has increased to five, state and federal public health officials warned the public Friday to refrain from vaping both nicotine and THC products, particularly those bought off the street or altered, as they continue to try to pin down the culprit.

How Are You Handling Vaping at Work?  

Companies may want to address e-cigarette use in their smoking policies. Depending on their location, employers may have the discretion to treat vaping as they want, said Jay Hux, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Chicago. But employers should consider state and local regulations when developing a policy.
(SHRM Online)   

[SHRM members-only policy: Smoke and Vape-Free Workplace Policy]   

More States Ban Vaping, E-Cigarette Use in Workplaces  

Thousands of employers need to update their workplace no-smoking policies to include bans on vaping and electronic cigarettes as new state laws addressing the practice continue to crop up. So far this year four states—Florida, New Mexico, South Dakota and Minnesota—put in place no-vaping mandates for most types of indoor workplaces.
(Bloomberg)   

Florida Adds Vaping to Regulated Indoor Smoking 

The Florida Legislature recently amended the Indoor Air: Tobacco Smoke Act to restrict indoor vaping in addition to tobacco smoking in enclosed spaces. The amended act is now known as the Indoor Air: Smoking and Vaping Act. The new law went into effect on July 1. The act broadly defines "vape" or "vaping" to include inhaling or exhaling vapor produced by a vapor-generating electronic device or possessing a vapor-generating electronic device while that device is actively employing an electronic, chemical or mechanical means designed to produce vapor or aerosol from a nicotine product or any other substance.  
(SHRM Online)  

Updated Sept. 8.

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