E-Cigs: Friend or Fiend?

By Jake Thorson, CHMM  CHESS, Inc.

Minnesota prohibits smoking in all indoor workplaces, but what about vaping, or electronic cigarettes? Well, a 2014 state law prohibits e-cig use on government property and at child care and health care facilities. Hennepin and Ramsey Counties have extended the ban to all indoor workplaces. Some municipalities have also banned e-cigs in workplaces. But what if your county and city hasn’t and you have employees that want to use e-cigs? Should you allow it?

Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs don’t cause tar build-up in users’ lungs, but they haven’t been around long enough to determine their health effects with any degree of certainty. And aside from health risks, there is another issue with e-cigs, which comes from their design: they are meant to help people quit smoking. As a result, they contain hazardous wastes! The batteries that vaporize the liquid are not allowed in checked airline luggage because of their hazards, and throwing the batteries in the trash, at work or at home, is illegal. So does your facility have a collection program? If you allow vaping, you should. If the batteries are recycled, they’re a universal waste and not a hazardous waste – a big difference to regulators and your bottom line!

But there is still another hazard: the cartridges. These little capsules are designed to deliver nicotine-containing smoke without all the tar. And there’s the primary hazard: nicotine. With some vaping liquids containing up to 42 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter, two drops is enough to send an infant to the Emergency Room. Studies have shown that three drops (just 6 mg) will kill a baby. That is why nicotine is specifically listed as an acutely toxic waste. That’s why unless a container is cleaned to EPA regulations, it’s not considered empty and must be treated the same as a container with the chemical still in it.

So… what should we do?

Don’t smoke or vape. But if employees must, then set up smoking stations away from public entrances, occupied spaces, walkways, and building air intakes. Provide a smokers’ station where employees can dispose of cigarette butts (which are unregulated refuse). For vapers: we recommend a policy that states employees must use the same smoking stations and, further, take home whatever smoking materials they bring in.

Your alternative is to collect the vape cartridges and dispose of them as hazardous waste… and because it is acutely toxic it won’t take many before your facility will be a Large Quantity Generator.

For more information, see the MPCA fact sheet on e-cigarettes and nicotine waste at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/w-hw4-65.pdf

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