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The days of the cigarette smoke-laden offices romanticized on the popular 1960s-era TV show "Mad Men" have long since passed as employees over the past several decades have grown accustomed to heading outside for their smoke breaks. But a new technology has challenged some employers to bring smoking back indoors.

With its astonishing growth in popularity, the electronic cigarette has started popping up in spaces previously off-limits to smokers, from restaurants to shopping centers, and some employees have their sights set on the workplace as well. How are e-cigarettes affecting company policy, and what does your organization need to know?

Are opponents just blowing smoke?
E-cigarettes have reignited the smoking versus nonsmoking debate, galvanizing advocates on both sides of the issue in recent years. The technology's defenders highlight the chemical differences between e-cigs and their conventional counterparts, noting that unlike cigarettes, which emit a smoke we know to be harmful, the vapor given off by e-cigarettes is completely harmless to bystanders, Forbes reported. However, opponents of the tobacco industry in general and e-cigarettes in particular have claimed that not enough is known about the chemical composition of this vapor, let alone the effects it can have on secondhand vapor inhalers, to be able to determine of it's truly safe.

Where do workplaces stand?
While many restaurants and other public places have banned the use of cigarettes of all kinds, electronic or otherwise, workplaces have been slower to take a stance one way or the other. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 29 U.S. states have specific legislation banning smoking from the workplace, though very few have specifically included e-cigarettes in this category.

A recent report from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine outlined guidelines employers can follow in navigating this new territory. The main takeaway of the collaborative report was that companies should consider e-cigarettes the same way they would any other tobacco product. This includes restricting the use of the product to designated smoking areas, as well as covering e-cigarette usage under tobacco screenings for health care plan considerations. However, some businesses have been reluctant to accept these suggestions, citing the dip in productivity caused by employees who take frequent smoke breaks. Additionally, the SHRM noted that some people use e-cigarettes as a way of weaning off of smoking, and thus relegating the usage of such devices to designated smoking areas could be counterproductive.

Companies that are struggling to develop a policy regarding e-cigarettes could gain valuable insight from PEO companies. The skilled HR professionals staffing these organizations can offer valuable HR services without small-business owners needing to spend money on in-house HR.