Vaping Increases Risk of Workplace Injury

Smoking has often been characterized as harmful, and injurious to the smoker and others around them, but what about vaping? Compared to smoking, vaping has been described as a healthier alternative to smoking. It has found ground among young people and those who wish to quit smoking. Unfortunately, there are several health risks related to vaping, all of which can increase workplace injury.

Vaping can increase the risk of lung injury through a combination of THC, a psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, nicotine, and vitamin E. EVALI, or vaping product use associated lung injury, includes illnesses such as lipoid pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, respiratory failure, and even death.[1] Respiratory symptoms such as chronic cough, wheezing, and bronchitis come with the risk of e-cigarette use. For workers that are exposed to smoke, dust, and soot, such as firefighters, and coal miners, there is an even greater risk to lung injury through consistent use of vaping products. Even with personal protective equipment such as masks and respirators, which are not always used (properly), workers exposed to harmful particles must be aware of the risks associated with vaping.

Vaping is addictive because of nicotine, but did you know that some vape products contain more nicotine than cigarettes? Some e-cigarettes are manufactured for the user to be able to extract more nicotine per hit than a regular cigarette could bring. With repeated use, one could see their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with attention, decision-making, judgment, and planning negatively impacted by nicotine.[2] For workers in high-risk jobs such as loggers, roofers, iron and steel workers, truck drivers, and power linemen, where there can be little room for error, there is an increased concern with vaping product use. A lack of judgment or clarity when dealing with sharp, hot, electrical, or heavy objects, can be dangerous. Working at elevated heights also requires clarity to avoid fall and death injuries.

Although vaping is banned in New Jersey workplaces, laws have never deterred all people from breaking the law. Workers may still try to vape, exposing others to secondhand smoke. If allowed, workers may vape during lunch or rest breaks. In addition, some workers may be exposed to secondhand smoke from vape products even with all workers in a workplace complying with the law.

JUUL is the leading e-cigarette manufacturer that captures the most market share, with 41 percent of the market as of 2021. A study by the Truth Initiative found that 15–17-year-olds were 16x more likely to use JUUL than 25–34-year-olds.[3] Vape is attractive for teens partly because it looks cool and is similar in look to a USB drive, but also because of its existing popularity among this age group. Teenagers who vape are commonly found doing so in school bathrooms to avoid detection. They may also use more discreet methods to vape in classrooms, such as hiding vape pens in shirt sleeves. This introduces secondhand smoke to other teenagers, as well as workers such as teachers and utility/janitorial workers.

Teen vaping has been previously characterized as an epidemic in the United States. It’s junction with peer pressure puts many teens in a difficult position, from which they feel they must conform. Most teachers are not well-equipped to be able to advise and guide students on the correct path. Incidentally, many teachers are pregnant women, who are at a greater health risk due to secondhand smoke. Some secondary schools may harbor an inadequate environment for pregnant women to be able to nurture an unborn child if they continue to work. Those who are also at a greater health risk due to secondhand smoke include those with respiratory disorders.[4]  A study from Greek researchers found that vaping causes breathing difficulties in people of all ages, including smokers and non-smokers.[5] The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated respiratory illnesses in many people, creating a larger issue within vaping. For those who fear drawbacks to being around vape smoke, it can cause them to feel uncomfortable, and if able, distance themselves from the vaper.

There may be other consequences to smoking other than health risks for the user and others around them. Although the law protects people against discrimination from employment if they smoke or use tobacco products, there is a limited exception towards this. A health care employer in New Jersey could refuse to hire a smoker if there is a “rational basis for doing so which is reasonably related to the employment, including the responsibilities of the employee or prospective employee.”[6] In health care, the primary focus is the health of patients. Smoking can be contradictory towards health, and possibly threaten a health care provider’s mission.

Nicotine is a drug, and many people form an addiction over time to vape products, which can contain carcinogens and hazardous chemicals, such as formaldehyde, toluene, and nitrosamines. It can also contain diethylene glycol, which is found in antifreeze.[7] Other chemicals inside vape include flavorants such as diacetyl, linked to serious lung disease, and heavy chemicals such as nickel, tin, and lead.[8] Many vapers are unaware of the existence of these harmful chemicals.

Vaping can also have consequences in workers’ compensation. If you are filing for workers’ compensation due to workplace injury, the court will take all factors into account when deciding on what caused the injury. If there is evidence to believe that the injury was onset by vaping effects or illness, the court may find that the injury was not workplace related and deny the petitioner benefits. Like how a petitioner could be denied benefits for drinking alcohol before or on the job if they incur injury, due to decreased cognitive function and motor skills.

People are lured into trying to vape such as JUUL for reasons such as a smoking alternative, peer pressure, and just wanting to feel the effects of it. Although smoking is worse than vaping, the latter is, for many, an unnecessary dependency. People who vape can put themselves at an increased risk for injury over time. Although it is touted as a method of weaning off smoking products such as cigarettes, vaping has its own risks due to inhaling a variety of chemicals that could be detrimental long-term. It can have consequences at work which should be taken into consideration.

[1] Lofgren, K. (2019, September). Dangers of vaping. Northwestern Medicine. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/emotional-health/vaping-4-risks-for-kids

[2] Ibid.

[3] Truth Initiative. (2018, October 30). New Study reveals teens 16 times more likely to use juul than older age groups. Truth Initiative. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://truthinitiative.org/press/press-release/new-study-reveals-teens-16-times-more-likely-use-juul-older-age-groups

[4] DavidsonMorris Ltd. (2021, June 25). Vaping at Work Rules. DavidsonMorris. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://www.davidsonmorris.com/vaping-at-work/

[5] Lofgren, K. (2019, September). Dangers of vaping. Northwestern Medicine. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/emotional-health/vaping-4-risks-for-kids

[6] Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC. (2011, April 5). Can a Health Care Employer in New Jersey Refuse to Hire a Smoker? Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://www.bipc.com/can-a-health-care-employer-in-new-jersey-refuse-to-hire-a-smoker

[7] Lofgren, K. (2019, September). Dangers of vaping. Northwestern Medicine. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/emotional-health/vaping-4-risks-for-kids

[8] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Know the Risks: E-Cigarettes & Young People: U.S. Surgeon General’s Report. Know the Risks. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/

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