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Vaping and The Workplace

Published:  September 17, 2019

Over the last several weeks, hundreds of unexplained respiratory illnesses and several deaths have been reported across the country that are believed to be related to “vaping.” “Vaping” is the use of electronic devices, sometimes called e-cigarettes or vape pens, to inhale water vapor typically containing nicotine or THC. “Vaping” grew in popularity about a decade ago, and was, at the time, believed to be a less harmful alternative to smoking. However, within the last several weeks, the rash of unexplained respiratory illness believed to be related to “vaping” has shown that it may not be any less harmful that smoking. Medical professionals do not yet understand the cause of these respiratory illnesses; however, they appear to be linked to “vaping” because “vaping” has been identified as a common thread between each case.

There is some debate about the exact nature of the problem. Some hypothesize that the health risks may be inherent in the act of “vaping.” Others, hypothesize that the problem is not “vaping” itself, but rather a contaminant that may have been found in the specific products. Because the exact cause is not yet known, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has taken the extraordinary step of banning sale of all “vaping” products in the state for a period of four months. Whether or not this prohibition will be extended beyond four months will likely depend on whether the exact cause of the mysterious respiratory illnesses can be identified within that time period.

This ordeal has highlighted an important issue for employers. Massachusetts has longstanding restrictions regarding smoking in the workplace. Under Massachusetts law, smoking is prohibited in any enclosed workspace where employees work. These laws were put in place, by and large, to protect bystanders from second-hand smoke. These efforts were driven by decades of research showing that second-hand smoke presents many of the same risk of smoking.

However, these bans don’t necessary ban “vaping” in a workplace. This is likely due to the probable misconception that “vaping” isn’t as harmful as smoking, and therefore “second-hand vapors” aren’t as harmful as “second-hand smoke.” Yet, these recent developments suggest that this may not be true.

So, what is the legality status of “vaping” in the workplace? Well, it depends on where you are. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts hasn’t explicitly banned “vaping” in the workplace. However, about 1/3 of Massachusetts cities and towns, or more than 100 cities and towns total, have banned “vaping” in enclosed work spaces. This lack of uniformity can be complicated and confusing; particularly for employees doing business in multiple locations. It is advisable that all employers check their local laws to ensure that they are complying with any applicable ban on “vaping” in the workplace.

 If you have any questions about vaping in the workplace, or any other labor or employment matters, please contact the attorneys at Royal, P.C. at 413-586-2288.

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