Being in prison can be challenging whether you are there for the first time or more. Going to prison requires leaving all your belongings outside your cell, depriving you of many daily-use objects. At most, inmates can take their medicines with them and leave drugs and cigarettes outside. But the big question arises, "Can you smoke in prison?”
Most prisons do not allow cigarettes, tobacco, or drugs; however, you may get them by other means.
This article tells you everything about smoking in prison and how inmates receive these items.
Smoking Culture in Prisons
Smoking culture has been common in prisons worldwide and many countries are banning smoking in jails.
Benoit Lasnier, the scientific advisor for the Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec, says, "With such a high prevalence of smoking, the air is somewhat unbreathable. The fact is a lot of inmates are smokers. It’s part of the culture in prisons.”
Many prisoners have been smoking before being jailed, while others adopt the habit from other inmates. Most prisons globally are working towards banning smoking products within prison premises.
Smoking in prison has been a concern for authorities due to increasing diseases and the death toll among inmates.
Around 80,000 people in the UK die from smoking annually, and others get smoking-related illnesses, including cancer and stroke. Passive smoking also increases the risks for over 50 serious diseases, including cardiac and cancer.
The UK rolled out a smoking ban in 2006 when the US implemented bans against smoking in most states. The Health and Social Care Select Committee declared all prisons in the UK free of smoke, making it the largest smoke-free prison estate in Western Europe. At the same time, 20 US states are completely tobacco and smoke-free.
How Can You Smoke in Prison?
Following the smoking ban, you cannot smoke in prison; most prisons are smoke-free now. But many are not!
Some gangs and mafias bring cigarettes to the inmates, disturbing the government’s vision of smoke-free prisons.
Studies of prison smoking bans have revealed that up to 93% of prisoners continue to smoke despite existing bans in many prisons.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons and many other prison systems in the US have banned tobacco products inside and outside buildings. Inmates cannot smoke e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, or chewing tobacco within the jail premise. If an inmate is caught smoking by the staff, they will receive a disciplinary incident report.
Despite the ban on smoking in prison, underground tobacco and cigarette sales are common and quite profitable businesses. Inmates buy individual cigarettes for as high as $20, while a packet of cigarettes in prison may cost up to $300. Some prisoners also supply pinners consisting of a very small amount of tobacco rolled in a toilet paper covering for $5.
Prison guards might offer a cigarette to an inmate who uses it to distribute among others, or supply gangs sometimes pay guards to make the process easier. They find it an efficient way of making some good cash.
Now when the answer to “Can you smoke in prison” is “no," but inmates still smoke, the question is, "How?"
Since the ban on smoking, you cannot bring lighters or matches to the prison either, pushing prisoners to find other ways of lighting cigarettes. Many inmates use two AA batteries and foil strips to light up their cigarettes. They place the batteries on a piece of metal and hold down two pieces of foil on each battery terminal to ignite a light.
Can You Smoke in Prisons in the US?
Smoking in prisons has been a complicated issue in the US, and many states imposed a ban on smoking in 2006. Yet, around 30 states lifted the smoking ban considering inmates' smoking rights and needs; inmates and staff can smoke outside in designated areas.
Considering the lifting of the ban, the Mississippi Department of Corrections started taking pre-orders for smokeless tobacco products and cigarettes in January 2021.
What do Inmates Say About the Smoking Ban?
While some inmates are happy with the smoking ban because of health concerns, others believe a complete ban is not the right solution. It shows bias towards non-smoking prisoners and ignores the rights of smoking prisoners.
Some prison authorities suggest that a complete ban is more effective in improving air quality within the prison. They believe that inmates should be encouraged to quit smoking instead of allowing smoking in jails.
Staff and inmates interviewed in a Scottish prison had mixed reactions to the smoking ban. It was more readily accepted than anticipated; some responded positively, while others believed it was not the right decision.
The positive reviews mentioned a reduction in secondhand smoke, making non-smokers happy. One of the inmates mentioned, "Before, you would have to, sort of, clean the walls and things like that when you went in. Like, you'd spray cleaning stuff on the walls, and it would just run, like, yellow, see with the nicotine. Whereas, like, it’s a lot fresher. It’s a lot nicer.” The staff and inmates also shared how the air has started to feel better already without inhaling smoke.
The other group, mostly smokers, said they felt better when they smoked, allowing them to de-stress. Some smoking inmates mentioned that their anxiety had increased a lot with the implementation of the smoking ban. Furthermore, a few also linked it with aggression and violence. They believe the ban has led to anxiety and increased aggression among the inmates, leading to fights and arguments. One of the inmates mentioned, "Because tobacco is not around… it’s causing a lot of angry, as well… a lot of more fights now than what there used to be, and more arguments… more tension.”
So, Can You or Can You Not Smoke in Prison?
Officially, the answer to “Can you smoke in prison?" is "no" for most states, but many have lifted the smoking ban, allowing the staff and inmates to smoke outdoors.
However, most prisoners can get cigarettes and tobacco even in prisons where they are banned.