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Popularity of e-cigarettes sparks issues at work

The rising popularity of so-called e-cigarettes is creating a new set of challenges for some employers.

E-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes, are battery-powered devices that turn liquified nicotine and other combustables into a vapor that the user then inhales. The vaporizers have also attracted marijuana consumers in states where cannabis consumption is legal under local law.

And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has talked about cracking down on the unregulated e-cigarette industry, imposing regulations and restrictions, any rules regarding "vaping" are still in the proposal stage.

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In the meantime, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, retail sales of e-cigarettes have tripled over a two-year period, to an estimated $1.8 billion last year.

And according to a new report by the XpertHR online human resources web site, employers and management can find themselves in new legal territory when dealing with employees who might want to "vape" while at work or on a break.

"The first thing an employer should do when creating an electronic cigarette policy is decide whether e-cigarettes will be completely banned, allowed in smoking areas, allowed in certain approved areas outside of the regular smoking areas or allowed everywhere inside the workplace," Ashley Shaw, XpertHR's legal editor, said in a press statement.

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"No matter what an employer decides to do about electronic cigarettes," Shaw continued, "it is important to create a new written policy, or update an existing smoking policy, stating what is or is not allowed."

E-cigarettes do not yet come under federal regulation as tobacco products, but some cities, states and municipalities have already imposed restrictions or bans on the devices.

In deciding whether to restrict or ban "vaping" in the workplace, the report says employers need to weigh some several considerations, such as the health effects of e-cigarette vapor.

Then there's the possibility of second-hand e-cigarette vapor coming into contact with other employees - as well as the effects e-cigarettes might have on employee productivity, and the risk of liability by created by allowing "vaping" into the workplace.

Along with researching state and local laws on e-cigarettes, the report notes some businesses have been trying to stay ahead of any controversy, by covering e-smoking in the company policies.

And once a decision has been reached on e-cigarettes, the report suggests that employers "distribute the written policy to employees in advance of its official effective date."

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