Responding to the rise of “vaping.” - February 2015

by Mike Bederka

Oxford Dictionaries may have dubbed “vape” the word of the year for 2014, but family entertainment centers (FECs) still lack consensus on how to handle the rising number of guests who smoke electronic cigarettes.

Take, for example, the wide range of attitudes and policies venues have toward e-cigarettes, which don’t contain tobacco and likely fall outside of public smoking laws—for now.

Bounce Milwaukee in Wisconsin forbids vaping during family-friendly hours. “We don’t want children to see it,” says owner Ryan Clancy. After 9 p.m. on the weekends, though, the facility turns 21-plus and it allows e-cigs then.

Guests can use e-cigarettes at Strikerz Entertainment Center in Independence, Missouri. However, staff members will warn vaping patrons that if other customers complain, they will need to take it outside. “Fortunately, it hasn’t been a huge issue,” explains Elaine Edwards, the facility’s marketing director.

Employees at the Zone Family Fun Center in Kalispell, Montana, have received minimal complaints, as well, says Owner Amber Collier, who notes the FEC has yet to develop a vaping policy due, in part, to the subtle nature of the activity. “Most people will take a quick puff off their e-cig and then put it away.”

Other facilities take a firmer stance (or plan to do so shortly) with the hazy issue of e-cigarettes.

Supported by a strong bowling league audience, which has some members use e-cigs, FlipSide in Gilbert, Arizona, had OKed vaping up to this point. But based on recent negative guest and employee feedback, “it’s becoming more paramount to make a policy decision against e-cigarettes,” says Nate Hirni, the FEC’s general manager.

“We’re in a family business,” agrees Rick Rahim, president of the Laser Tag Group, with 12 locations across the United States. “Don’t we have a responsibility to the next generation to look out for their health? And perhaps lead by example? This includes e-cigarettes.” With Rahim’s smoking policy, staff can’t vape—on and off duty—in view of customers. (See sidebar for more on employee smoking policies.)

Half a world away, Thej John Roy, regional operations manager–United Arab Emirates, of the Al Hokair Group, also be-lieves in wrapping vaping into a facility’s standard strict non-smoking policy, much for the same reason as Rahim.

“At their more nascent stages of development, kids usually have minds like sponges and absorb every action of their immediate guardian, be it words, mannerisms, or even habits,” he says.

Regulations Likely to Come

While vaping doesn’t fit within the statutory definition of smoking in most states and localities, there have been recent efforts, most notably in New York City, to enact special regulations to ban vaping in public or in certain specified places, such as government buildings and workplaces. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also has proposed new rules that would require approval of vaping liquid.

“Thus, while not generally within the scope of existing smoking laws, vaping may still be subject, either now or in the near future, to its own specific regulations,” details Erik Beard, an attorney who focuses on amusement counseling and litigation, with the firm Wiggin and Dana LLP, in Hartford, Connecticut. “Whether a facility should, as a policy matter, ban vaping regardless of specific governmental regulation is another matter.”

Beard says he tends to advise clients that it’s usually better to act voluntarily than to be compelled to act “by the force of law.” Absent a legal obligation, facilities have much more freedom to craft a policy with enough flexibility to address the particular needs of its guests.

“For example, a concern of many opponents of vaping is that it may act as a gateway to tobacco use,” he says. “Whether that is true or not is inconclusive, but if this is the perception in a particular community, it may be something a facility should consider incorporating into its smoking policy. As an industry that’s very concerned with maintaining a family-friendly image, allowing unrestricted vaping inside the facility may not be consistent with that concern.” 

Contact Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at

What Is ‘Vaping’?

E-cigarettes are battery-operated nicotine inhalers that contain a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED on the end that lights up when the device is puffed on. The cartomizer is filled with a liquid that usually contains the chemical propylene glycol, nicotine, flavoring, and other ad-ditives. When someone puffs on an e-cigarette, also referred to as “vaping,” a heating element boils the liquid until it produces a vapor.

Although e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, they still contain the highly addictive stimulant nicotine, says Dr. Jacqueline Ji-Eun Lee, a tho-racic surgeon at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania. “Inhaling nicotine can undoubtedly lead to a nicotine addiction, which can cause users to ‘graduate’ to smoking regular cigarettes,” she says. “Some studies have shown that e-cigarettes may cause short-term lung changes that are similar to those caused by regular cigarettes, but the long-term health effects are still unclear.”

Many people use e-cigarettes as a tool to help quit tobacco since they contain nicotine, Lee says. “However, the nicotine inside the device’s cartridges is addictive,” she says. “If and when you stop using it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms ranging from feeling irritable to depressed, restless, and anxious.” The American Heart Association also doesn’t recommend using e-cigarettes as a tool to quit smoking tobacco.

Zero Tolerance for Staff Smoking

A former smoker, Amber Collier of the Zone Family Fun Center adheres to a strict policy when it comes to staff smoking traditional cigarettes while on the clock. (Employee vaping doesn’t seem to be a widespread issue.)

“If they’re caught smoking, their shift would be over and they would be sent home,” she says. “This includes outside or in their car. I know the policy sounds harsh, but when you’re in a small laser tag briefing room with someone who had a cigarette, it smells very bad and kids look up to us. That is not the example I want to set for them.”

As a result of the policy, several staffers have quit smoking, she says, and Collier happily points others to resources if they want to do the same.