When John Castellano feels like a smoke, he simply heads to the break room at Kraft Foods Group Inc.’s Garland, Texas, factory.
The 39-year-old technician has been able to indulge his habit in common areas at work since he started using electronic cigarettes, which emit vapor rather than smoke.
E-cigs are “very liberating,” said Castellano, who used to join the other nicotine addicts at the factory’s designated smoking area.
Twenty-five years after companies began banning smoking in the workplace, the increasing popularity of e-cigs is forcing them to review their policies. Many corporations still ban “vaping” as they wait to see if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will regulate e-cigs as strictly as regular smokes. Yet Kraft and Walgreen Co. allow local managers to set the rules. Smaller firms, especially creative agencies and Web startups, have already adopted a more laissez-faire attitude.
U.S. e-cig sales will triple this year to $1.5 billion and double annually through 2018, according to Euromonitor International projections. After that, sales of e-cigs may increase 10 percent a year and reach $124.5 billion in 2028, surpassing conventional smokes for the first time, Kenneth Shea, an analyst for Bloomberg Industries in Skillman, New Jersey, said in an interview today.
They’re expected to accelerate as traditional tobacco makers muscle into a market previously dominated by small players. Both Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc., the biggest U.S. tobacco sellers, are expanding distribution of e-cigs. Lorillard Inc. controls about half of the U.S market with blu eCigs, which it acquired last year.
So far, small companies where bosses can monitor whether e-cigs bother co-workers are more likely to allow vaping.
“It is all new to us,” said Ged King, president of the Sales Factory, a 35-employee marketing firm based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He looked up in surprise during a staff meeting a few months ago to see an employee vaping. Now several employees do it, presumably “to help them kick the smoking habit,” he said.
“We’ve not put a policy in place because nobody has complained,” King said.
The technology gives users seeking anonymity an edge. E-cigs heat liquid nicotine into an inhaled vapor, dissipating faster than cigarette smoke. So workers more worried about being seen than smelled puff e-cigs in empty offices and bathrooms, according to posts on the E-Cigarette Forum website, where visitors share favorite flavors and vaping lounges, as well as tips on how to avoid offending co-workers.
“I’m doing it on the down-low and just close the door,” said Dennis Rumpf, a construction manager in Charlotte, North Carolina. He declined to identify his employer because it didn’t authorize him to speak publicly.
Rumpf, 37, said he alternates between menthol and classic tobacco flavors in the e-cigs he’s been using for six months, after 19 years as a smoker.
“I have people come into my office all the time and I’m sure they’d say something if they noticed anything,” he said.
Web developer Adam Gray has won his boss’s approval to use e-cigs at his Minnetonka, Minnesota, office.
“It makes him more productive and sets him on a path for better health,” said Paul Hanson, chief operating officer of TrackIF LLC, a firm that monitors price changes across the Web.
Gray, 27, said he can “vape all day, a puff here and there” without leaving his desk.
Kraft doesn’t have a companywide e-cigs policy and allows managers to make their own rules as long as they abide by local and state laws. Walgreen, the largest U.S. drugstore retailer, also leaves decisions to office managers.
However, health and regulatory uncertainties have prompted many employers to treat e-cigs like regular cigarettes, said Paula Andersen, a registered nurse at Buck Consultants, a human-resources firm that advises companies on health programs.
“We recommend that if companies do have a tobacco-free policy that they call electronic cigarettes out as well,” said Andersen, who declined to identify clients.
Exxon Mobil Corp. and General Motors Co. allow vaping in designated smoking areas, while CVS Caremark Corp. and Lowe’s Cos. currently ban e-cigs and regular smokes. Levi Strauss & Co. forces vapers to do their business outside.
“For the most part, people who vape are treated as smokers,” said LeeAnn Blohm, who favors chocolate peanut butter and butterscotch e-cigs. She declined to identify her employer in Austin, Texas, which doesn’t allow vaping inside.