The Great Vape Debate

Occupational Health & Safety

The smoking ban was introduced into enclosed Irish workplaces on 29 March 2004. It was, in my opinion, one of the most radical and progressive health measures taken by an Irish government. The norm prior to that was smoke filled work rooms, especially bars and places of entertainment, but also offices, meeting rooms, even canteens. Bars, buses, restaurants, taxis, shops even hospitals allowed smoking at one time. Smoking areas on aircraft were right beside non-smoking areas.

There is no occupational exposure limit for tobacco smoke, because as they say, there is no safe level of exposure. Tobacco smoke contains 4000 poisonous and/or carcinogenic substances, including carbon monoxide, tar, arsenic, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, acetone, DDT, formaldehyde and sulphuric acid. 5,500 people per year die from smoking related diseases in Ireland alone.

You can probably pick up that I am not a major fan of cigarette smoke and warmly welcomed the ban in enclosed public and work places. I am, however, mystified by the over the top reaction of the vast majority of employers, hotels, etc. which have an entirely negative view on the “e-cigarette” or vaping. These do not generate smoke. Water vapour is expelled with the breath and maybe a very small concentration of nicotine. Nicotine is a hazardous chemical but it has an OELV which can be measured and used to ensure adequate control.

I have never been addicted to cigarette smoke, but I know very well the struggles that close family members have endured in their efforts to give up the habit. In my view anything that helps with that is a potential life saver. Patches, gum, vaping, inhalers etc. do not have anything like the passive effects that smoking has. Sit beside someone who is vaping, close your eyes, and try to detect any evidence that it’s going on. You are a more sensitive soul than I if you can pick up anything more than the sound of breathing and maybe the flavour that is added to some brands. But, you may say, that is all just subjective and an opinion based on very little factual evidence, and until recently I’d have had to agree.

Public Health England has published a number of articles and guidelines on the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, summarising health effects as follows:

E-cigarettes are not risk free, but based on current evidence they carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes. The authors of PHE’s independent review of the latest evidence concluded that using an e-cigarette (known as ‘vaping’) is around 95% safer than smoking.

This estimate is based on the facts that:

  • the constituents of cigarette smoke that harm health – including carcinogens – are either absent in e-cigarette vapour or, if present, they are mostly at levels much below 5% of smoking doses (mostly below 1% and far below safety limits for occupational exposure)
  • the main chemicals present in e-cigarettes only have not been associated with any serious risk.

In terms of bystanders, a report released by PHE and based on analytical studies stated:

  • EC [e-cigarettes] release negligible levels of nicotine into ambient air with no identified health risks to bystanders

So the question is, are we doing more harm than good by banning vaping from the workplace and from public places like bars and restaurants? It may be counterproductive if we are sending those who are trying to stop smoking out to join those still puffing on their cigarettes. It is also likely to reduce productivity in the workplace if people have to go outside or even off the site to use an e- cigarette.

Maybe heading this topic the great vape debate was a bit of an over statement as there seems to be very little debate on the subject. It’s at least worthy of discussion. The initial response to vaping made sense as there was limited evidence, and the precautionary approach to exposure was warranted. Now that we have some evidence we can review our policies accordingly.

By the way we are not affiliated, associated or contracted with any suppliers of e cigarettes or other smoking replacement products.


Public Health England

carcinogenic substances , E Cigarettes , Health & Safety , Smoking Ban , Tobacco
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