At least two major pub companies – Mitchells & Butlers and J D Wetherspoon – have banned 'vaping' on their premises to avoid confusion and make it easier for staff. Yet the numbers of e-cigarette users in the UK has soared to an estimated 1.3 million, and many public health experts believe they can help smokers cut down or quit.
Now ASH – Action on Smoking and Health – and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health have jointly published fresh advice for organisations considering whether to permit or prohibit e-cigs.
It notes that:
“In pubs, clubs and restaurants it may be impractical for staff who are busy serving customers to be repeatedly checking to determine whether people are smoking or only using an NCP (nicotine containing product). In these circumstances a blanket prohibition may well be justified and people wishing to use NCPs could be required to do so outside the premises, just as smokers are required to do.”
But it asks operators to weigh this decision against other factors, and says that:
“Offering a safe and effective alternative to smoking tobacco to people who are addicted to nicotine may turn out to support compliance with smokefree legal requirements and make smokefree policies easier to implement.”
ASH research manager Amanda Sandford warned operators against rushing to a decision.
“If pub companies feel that it's too difficult to distinguish e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes that's fair enough, but not all e-cigarettes look like tobacco cigarettes and there's no way you would mistake some of them for a tobacco product.
“Pubs are forcing vapers to go outside and mingle with smokers, and that's the last people they should be hanging out with, and it's a bit unfair on people who are trying to cut down or quit tobacco.
“There does appear to be a knee-jerk reaction in banning e-cigarettes and we want organisations to take time to reflect on their decision and to keep their policy under review. It's a fast-changing environment. If e-cigarettes are licensed as medicinal products it will put them on a par with, for instance, nicotine inhalers. They could well become less of an issue over time.”
M&B said it would keep its policy under review.
“We realise the fumes are just vapours and non harmful but this is not clearly understood by everyone and can lead to confusion for others. To prevent this we request that guests do not use this product in our premises.
“We understand guests using e-cigarettes don’t want to use them within our designated smoking areas, and therefore we are happy for them to be used outside of our businesses, away from the allocated smoking areas.
“We will keep our policy under review as more information becomes available on the use of e-cigarettes and, of course, will continue to listen to feedback from our guests.”
A spokesman for Wetherspoon said it was not looking at changing its policy.
“We are happy with the decision. The policy has been in place for a good while, and we have had very few complaints.”
Earlier this month the European Parliament rejected a recommendation that e-cigarettes should be regarded as medicinal. The UK government plans to licence them as medical products by 2016.