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Smoking bans in prison: time for a breather?

Smoking bans in prison: time for a breather? - Featured Image

Introducing a total smoke-free policy in prisons is not without problems

Successful public health campaigns have contributed to reducing daily smoking rates in the general Australian population from 24% in 1991 to 13% in 2013.1 However, this reduction has not been mirrored in prisons, where no downward trend is apparent and the rate remains stubbornly high at around 84%.2 High rates of community smoking persist in groups over-represented in the criminal justice system — the mentally ill (32% of current smokers had a 12-month mental disorder, compared with 16% of non-smokers),3 Indigenous people (44% of Indigenous v 16% of non-Indigenous Australians)4 and illicit drug users (37%).1

Smoking bans are becoming the norm in Australian prisons, driven mostly by concerns about the effects of second-hand smoke on non-smokers and potential legal action by non-smoking prison staff and prisoners. On 1 July 2013, the Northern Territory was the first Australian jurisdiction to implement a total smoking ban in prisons. Queensland followed suit with a total ban in May 2014, Tasmania from February 2015, and Victoria from July 2015. New South Wales implemented a full smoking ban in its prisons in August 2015; South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory…