Sometimes, the cruelest ironies come packaged in an email. That’s what 1,500 employees at e-cigarette startup Juul Labs, Inc. learned this December when their chief executive sent out a directive to stop vaping in the office.
“Rest assured that we are committed to exploring options for team members who desire to vape while at work,” wrote Kevin Burns. Just not in meeting rooms, at desks or in bathrooms where employees around the country take a puff. As an alternative at least at their San Francisco headquarters, Juul will erect an outdoor tent where workers can congregate if they want to vape.
The company’s main office had become a hotbed for vaping — or “Juuling,” as the habit is often called. A current employee told The Wall Street Journal that workers vaped “nonstop, in the open and in virtually every meeting… in all parts of the building.”
That makes sense, as the company was founded by smokers who were looking for an alternative to cigarettes. But the practice is counter to a California state ban that in 2016 established it’s illegal to use e-cigarettes in the workplace or in other public venues where smoke-free laws apply.
“It may feel nonsensical to prohibit at-work use of the very products we work hard to create and promote,” Burns wrote. “But the bottom line is we need to comply with legal requirements the same as any company.”
Juul has been under scrutiny in recent months as young people take up vaping thanks to its flavored e-cigarettes. According to the Journal, Burns mentioned in the staff email that the startup had been contacted by city officials about vaping policy in the office.
Though Juul may have come under fire for breaking the law, other workplaces that are less prominent don’t face much enforcement of the vaping bans, according to the advocacy group American Vaping Association.
“99% of people don’t care so long as they don’t see anything,” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, told the Journal. “If it’s 10 degrees outside and I want a single puff, I just take a puff and hold my breath.”