Sight loss concerns add weight to workplace e-cigarette argument

Adding weight to Safety Managers’ (HR professionals’/employers’) arguments against e-cigarettes in the workplace, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare is warning of the potential damage to the eyes from e-cigarettes.

While smoking has been banned at work premises since July 2007, a technicality means that e-cigarettes remain legal in the workplace. The act of ‘smoking’ requires a substance to be burned. As e-cigarettes emit vaporised water-based mist, they do not technically fall under the smoking ban.

For Safety Managers (HR professionals/employers) wishing to implement a policy banning the use of e-cigarettes at work, another reason may now be added to the case. Dr Nigel Best, clinical spokesman at Specsavers, says: ‘Although e-cigarette research is still in its early stages and the long-term effects are yet to be established, there are early indications that some types can cause irritation to the eyes in the form of dry eye.’

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, also known as dry eye disease, is a condition that occurs when the eyes do not make enough tears, or when the tears evaporate too quickly. This leads to the eyes drying out and becoming red, swollen and irritated.

With a rise in popularity of e-cigarettes among ex-smokers and those trying to give up smoking, the decision as to whether or not to ban e-cigarettes from the workplace may be a difficult one. As a relatively new invention, the risks of e-cigarettes are still not fully understood. However, concerns are significant enough that the British Medical Association has called for stronger regulation of e-cigarettes*, arguing that they should be regulated as a licensed medicinal product. For workplaces considering banning the use of e-cigarettes, the concerns over the effects on eye health add to the justification.

It should be remembered that traditional tobacco smokers remain most at risk, with double the chances of developing an eye condition known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD affects around 600,000 people in the UK alone and smokers are more likely to suffer from this eye condition than non-smokers. The condition is most common in people over the age of 50 and smoking increases the risk of contracting it.

Employees wanting advice on quitting smoking should call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 0224 332. Employers should visit for support materials.