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Smoking: Will ban anniversary drag up 'fake fag' controversy?

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Martin Wedge, of OVL Group, looks at e-cigarettes in cars.

We have just passed the seventh anniversary of the smoking ban in public places – including company cars and vans - doctors have re-ignited controversy around the subject by calling for an extension to the restriction to include e-cigarettes because they ‘normalise’ the consumption of nicotine.

The smoking ban, which passed into law on July 1 2007, has been a successful exercise in making restaurants, bars, offices and public transport smoke-free and healthier environments while driving the die-hard smokers to loitering in doorways or designated shelters.

The rules have been enforced through consensus – almost everyone agreed they were a good idea – and there is little evidence of enforcement of the fines and penalties to lighting up in contravention of the ban. There have been no high-level test cases or breach of human rights claims, although there may have been a sense of smoldering resentment.

The company vehicle was probably one of the areas of most controversy as many lone drivers did – and, arguably, probably still do – feel it is their right to exercise a maverick spirit to light up on the road on the basis that it was only them in the vehicle at any time and therefore they were harming no one else.  Likewise, In the case of vans – and where all workers in the cab going to the same job smoke - there was an equally consensual notion of ‘where’s the harm?’ Here fleet managers and HR teams were left with the task of possibly handing down disciplinary warnings when it came to the end of the lease where was an issue over the RV with the vehicle providers.

Now enter the hot debate over e-cigarettes, arguably developed as a way around the smoking ban because although they deliver nicotine, they do not contain tobacco or give off smoke.

The BMA argues using e-cigarettes in public, known as 'vaping', should be banned to ensure it does not 'normalise' the appearance of smoking for children, particularly as the products were being targeted at younger consumers with flavours like bubblegum and peach candy and the ‘faux smoke’ contains unknown chemicals which may have harmful effects.

Health issues aside, what impact will this have on company car and van drivers who feel they have a right to ‘light up’ their ‘fake fags’ although their behavior could be deemed to be normalising or promoting smoking to minors who may share the vehicle on the school run or during family holidays?

This call, if successful, is going to be the challenge for fleet managers and HR departments going forward as it will be tricky to argue that a vehicles RV was impacted by a hint of bubble gum or peach, even though the under 18s who may ride in that vehicle may not be so lucky.

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  • Neil Robinson - 11/08/2014 20:57

    Companies have a duty to protect their employees from *harm*, not from offending the gods of public health. Banning smoking in cars was inevitable once the concept of bans was accepted by the public, but to ban something with NO (zero, zilch) tangible harm for a vacuous and unproven hypothetical like "normalising", which doesnt even have a fixed or measurable definition let alone a risk of harm, is moving from protection to moralising - and that is an area that is most definitely not within the remit of health and safety.

  • Geoff Cliff - 11/08/2014 21:34

    If e-cigs give off no smoke, and leave only a sweet smell in the vehicle, yet are banned, will there also be a ban on eating and drinking in the vehicle? And what about wearing perfume, after-shave and deodorants? Or carrying foodstuffs? Perhaps we need to just ban vehicles!

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