In July, Australia enacted a ban on smoking within most of the country’s prison systems. Called by BBC as “one of the worst prison riots in recent memory,” a 15-hour riot then broke out in a Melbourne, Victoria prison where fires were lit, windows smashed and walls broken. While there is no solid evidence, officials believe that the smoking ban was directly related to the riot.
Joe Francis, Western Australian Corrective Services Minister, says that he will not follow in Victoria’s footsteps. As a former smoker himself, he knows the hardship that people face having to quit smoking and will continue to allow his inmates to smoke in designated areas.
Not only does he emphasize with the thought of quitting smoking, but Francis also realizes that many prisoners are battling other withdrawals (i.e. drugs, alcohol and/or their families) and suffer from any number of mental health problems.
He feels taking away their access to nicotine would be too much all at once, saying, “Prisoners are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.”
Australia’s Fight against Tobacco
Australia is one of the leading countries around the world focusing on anti-smoking. They were among the first to introduce plain packaging labels, including packaging that shows images of tobacco-related health problems—and their efforts have worked. Since 1980, Australian adult smoking rates have dropped by about half to 13 percent.
However, with all the good they’ve done among the population, the rates of prisoners smoking is at an all-time high. Roughly 80% of those inside the prison system smoke. This raises the cost of healthcare inside the prison system for prisoners and staff alike due to secondhand smoke.
E-Cigarettes in the Crossfire
This smoking ban also includes e-cigarettes. While there is still much debate over the use of e-cigarettes compared to tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarette use could go a long way to help ease tensions inside smoke-free prisons – if they were allowed.
Certain states here in the U.S., like North Carolina for instance, have allowed for specifically designed e-cigarettes to be sold within their jail system (not in their prisons).