E-Cigarettes: Smokeless or Not?


After years of being relegated to the outdoors for an after-dinner smoke, restaurant-goers are lighting up at the table again… or are they? E-cigarettes are becoming more mainstream, and with that, are creating issues for restaurants and workplaces across the country.

Electronic Cigarettes

The electronic cigarette or e-cigarettes are a type of electronic nicotine delivery system. There’s no standard design as manufacturers are incorporating various features and ingredients, but they all work in similar fashion: A cartridge containing a humecant (a substance that attracts or preserves moisture) carries nicotine through a tube through which the user inhales that includes a heating element causing the humecant to vaporize and form a mist. When a smoker “lights” an e-cigarette, a sensor activates the heating element in the device that releases liquid in aerosol form for inhalation. Using an e-cigarette is known as “vaping” or “e-smoking.” According to the National Business Group on Health, industry estimates place U.S. sales of e-cigarettes at more than $200 million annually.

The Anti-Smoking Law

Manufacturers pitch the devices as odorless, ash-free, and without tobacco smoke. From some perspectives, that places them outside the antismoking laws, and restaurants are wrestling with the issue. According to BloombergBusinessweek, the response from New York’s chefs and restaurateurs runs the full gamut. Of ten queried, two allowed them and two did not, treating them as regular cigarettes and in violation of non-smoking policies. Three respondents either had not seen them in their establishments or felt it was too new to address with a policy. And that left the other three sitting on the fence – if it’s not bothering other patrons, they would not ask them to stop “vaping” and will continue to monitor the situation.


As with New York restaurants coming down on all sides of the issue, research falls the same way. According to USA Today, “E-cigarettes: No smoke, but fiery debate over safety,” some research shows that e-cigarettes may damage the lungs but not the heart. Other studies cite potential hazards, including second-hand effect of the vapors, aerosols, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emitted. Industry groups have chalked up that as “nonsense.” On the other hand, some studies have found the e-cigarettes are a useful smoking cessation device, like patches.

Some cities and states are banning the use of e-cigarettes in smoke-free places, and Amtrak has banned their use on its trains.

Whether or not you’ve seen them in your restaurant, it will be far better to be prepared with a policy – whether or not e-cigarettes are truly smokeless is clearly a matter for debate.

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