On July 1st the U.S. Green Building Council released a change to LEED classifying electronic cigarettes as a form of tobacco smoking for the purposes of the smoking prohibitions of the LEED Environmental Quality Prerequisite 2, Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) Control, which is also applicable to LEED v4. 

Project teams must follow rating system addenda posted before their project’s registration date. Addenda are often substantive changes to LEED content including corrections, interpretations and alternative compliance paths that may substantively change the way a given requirement is achieved or meant to be achieved. Addenda are accessible in the addenda database.

Addenda are often released as LEED Interpretations which “are official answers to technical inquiries about implementing LEED on a project.” They are most easily accessed in the credit library by selecting the "Interpretations” tab within each credit.

“LEED Interpretations are not an avenue for making significant changes or new requirements to the LEED rating system. LEED Interpretations are also not the intended path for fixing errors in the LEED rating systems and reference guides.”

In this instance, the inquiry was “Are electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) covered under the Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control prerequisite?” The LEED Interpretation,

Yes, electronic cigarettes are considered a form of smoking for the purposes of both the interior and exterior smoking provisions of the LEED Prerequisite Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control. As recommended in the December 2013 report [1] prepared for the World Health Organization, “e-cigarettes should be prohibited anywhere where the use of conventional cigarettes is prohibited”. The indoor air quality impacts from electronic cigarettes are not fully characterized, but there is sufficient evidence that electronic cigarettes produce emissions in fine aerosol form that can expose building occupants. For example, according to the report, “several chemicals that have been found in e-cigarette aerosol and e-liquid are on California’s official list of known human carcinogens or reproductive toxicants, including nicotine, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, nickel, lead, toluene(1)”. [1] Background Paper on E-cigarettes (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems); Grana, R.; Benowitz, N.; Glantz, SA; December 2013; University of California.

Much is being said about the relative wisdom of this LEED Interpretation, but the most significant ‘take away’ is, given that a project team could not have reasonably anticipated such an addendum, and that addenda, issued without advance notice or prior alert, are binding when issued; it is key that all addenda be reviewed as they are released quarterly. 

Earlier this year, I wrote in this blog, Marijuana Smoking is Allowed in LEED Buildings. The conclusion in that blog post was that the LEED prerequisite was for “tobacco smoke”. But e-cigarettes also do not involve “tobacco” or “smoke”? E-cigarettes deliver a nicotine containing vapor (an aerosol, but not smoke) to users by heating a solution typically made up of propylene glycol. E-cigarettes do not burn or smolder the way conventional cigarettes do. 

Worthy of discussion is the lack of public comment for addenda, and in this instance that USGBC identifies as the rationale for this change in LEED, a single much criticized “scientific review” funded by the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative with support from the University of California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program; neither an unbiased forum. Moreover, one of the authors, Neal Benowitz is a consultant to pharmaceutical companies that market smoking cessation medications and has been an expert witness in litigation against tobacco. The other authors apparently work for that Tobacco Related Disease Research Program; making none of them neutral or detached. Read the study yourself and draw your own conclusions about the need to make this change to LEED outside of the 3 year public update process.

The larger issue is that the LEED rating systems change quarterly. While “LEED Interpretations are not an avenue for making significant changes or new requirements ..” it is clear that LEED Interpretations can be material and all involved with LEED projects should review addenda as they are released quarterly.