How to implement a workplace tobacco policy

With increased e-cigarette usage, a tobacco policy remains important regardless of your industry.

September 13, 2021

Article highlights

In the mid 1960s, more than 42 percent of adults smoked cigarettes, a rate that has plummeted to a low of about 13 percent in recent years. While smoking is significantly less common today than it used to be, it remains something that employers must consider as a health concern for employees.

Think of it this way: If you’re an employer, at least one in ten of your employees are likely to be a smoker.

A workplace tobacco policy will help to create an environment with a clear set of rules and guidelines, so that any workers who do use tobacco products know where and when they can do so. And it also gives non-smoking employees the assurance that they will be protected from toxins.

This is especially important as e-cigarette usage increases, especially among younger demographics. According to the CDC:

“The use of emerging tobacco products, including hookah and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes, has increased in recent years. Despite the increased use of e-cigarettes and marketing of these products, little is known about long term health effects. In 2014, an estimated 5.5 million working adults were current e-cigarette users.”

In this article, we’ll examine how a workplace tobacco policy benefits your operation in the areas of health and workplace culture, as well as look at how such policies apply to different industries. We’ll also explore tobacco free policies in the workplace and offer some advice on how to create and implement your own policies related to tobacco usage.

While we no longer live in the smoke-stained times of Mad Men, it’s still important to have a policy on the books.

Importance of a workplace tobacco policy

Tobacco usage continues to be debated in cities around the country, with some pushing for greater restrictions on smoking and others arguing for more freedom. In this environment, you can create a calmer environment at your operation by offering a clear and easy to follow workplace tobacco policy.

Now, imagine a setting with no such policy. Any smokers on staff would find their own places to smoke, unsure of where is appropriate. And non-smokers might then have to move through those areas and breathe in cigarette smoke.

This creates tension on both sides and can lead to a contentious work environment. By instituting a policy, you give clarity to all employees and let them know that you take their health into consideration.

Of course, health is the primary concern when it comes to tobacco. Using tobacco products has been proven to cause cancer and cardiovascular disease, and exposure to secondhand smoke also leads to an increased risk of those illnesses. And, according to the CDC, despite decreasing usage of tobacco this remains a concern.

“Although the proportion of workers who smoke tobacco or who are exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace has declined over the past several decades, many workers remain susceptible to the harms of tobacco smoking. The percentage of workers who smoke cigarettes varies by industry and occupation. The highest percentages of workers who smoke are in mining (30%), accommodation and food services (30%), and construction (29.7%) industries. Similarly, smokeless tobacco use is relatively frequent among workers in the mining (18.8%), wholesale trade (8.9%), and construction (7.9%) industries.”

As outlined in a National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health report, blue collar workers are at the most risk, and some 41,000 deaths each year are attributed to secondhand smoke. The NIOSH advises employers to adopt a tobacco free workplace policy to be proactive in benefitting the health of their employees.

Importance by Industry

Certain industries have adopted specific requirements regarding tobacco, and it’s important to know the guidelines that govern your industry. For instance, smoking is banned in airplanes, within federal government buildings, and inside of mines, among others.

And while it’s important to know the relevant laws and rules that could impact your tobacco policy, it’s also important to consider other concerns.

For instance, the healthcare industry is a setting in which you also have to be concerned about patients. They often already have health concerns, and so they must be protected from secondhand smoke. Additionally, a healthcare provider is an example of good health to the community. By establishing a tobacco free workplace policy, you create a good example of healthy living for your patients.

Law enforcement is another industry that serves a leadership role within communities. Officers are icons who can create beneficial influence in the areas they serve. By going tobacco free, you can make your agency an example of healthy living.

In corporate settings with a great many employees, leaders have the chance to positively influence the health of hundreds or even thousands through policy decisions that can deter employees from starting to use tobacco and can help users battle addiction.

How to implement a workplace tobacco policy

Once you’ve decided to create a workplace tobacco policy, a good first step is to look at all relevant laws, rules, and guidelines that apply to your operation. More than half of states currently ban smoking inside businesses, for example. The CDC guidelines are a good starting point, though you’ll also want to look for any specific resources within your community.

After you have those baseline requirements in place, you will want to consider the scope of your policy. What will it cover? Remember, tobacco products include cigarettes, e-cigarettes, hookahs, cigars, and smokeless tobacco. Will your policy address all of these, or only some?

Then, think about the specifics of your workplace and your employees. Are there specific health considerations to take into account? If you are going to set aside a space for smoking, can you guarantee that smoke will not escape this space and put others at risk? Are there any flame-related safety concerns?

Finally, you’ll need to decide if you want to create a tobacco free workplace policy. Instead of creating rules around tobacco usage, these policies offer a stringent ban on tobacco use on the job. To see if that is the right choice for you, you can look at some tobacco free policy samples.

Tobacco free workplace policy examples

Several health organizations have created tobacco free workplace policy examples as a starting point for employers looking to make this change.

Cancer Gold Standard has a sample policy that is simple and clear in banning tobacco, while also providing support for those who use tobacco and want to quit.

The American Lung Association sample policy offers two options. One is a complete ban on tobacco, and the other allows for tobacco usage outdoors only.

Such tobacco free workplace policy samples can be a great reference point, but remember to use it as a starting point as you consider your own policy.

No matter how few of your employees use tobacco, a workplace tobacco policy is essential for creating a safe and respectful environment. You can offer clarity to your employees and show them that you care about their health and wellness.

Even though smoking isn’t as common as it was decades ago, there’s a reason it remains one of the 10 essential workplace policies for your organization.

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