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Will the smoking ban in prisons destroy the inmates ‘economy’?


UK jails are set to become smoke free, with one former inmate suggesting this will cause havoc, though probably not for the reasons many may think.

According to an article regarding this in the Independent, 80% of inmates in the UK smoke. Interestingly the prison cell is considered the inmates home, and as a result, the 2006 Health Act does not apply and smoking is allowed.

New inmates get a ‘welcome pack’ containing half an ounce of tobacco, cigarette papers and an HMP branded lighter. As paper money is forbidden within prisons, the inmates have their own economy of which the currency is tobacco. A haircut can cost ½ oz of tobacco, a tattoo costs considerably more.

However, as with genuine money, people get into debt and people get into power, and inside those in power are known as tobacco barons. Non-payment of debt often results in physical violence, so not only will banning this cause issues of withdrawal, it will also upset the balance of power within the inmates.

The Author of the piece wrote about the potential effects of a smoking ban, stating  “In the Isle of Man prison, which went smoke-free in 2008, it has simply led to greater desperation. Hazardous DIY fags made by soaking anything flammable in the toxic fluids from boiled down nicotine patches have, according to former inmates, sprung up instead.

Its hardly surprising that those trapped in our miserable prison estate crave release. The response of one inmate to Public Health Englands inquiry says it all: [Tobacco is] everybodys lifeline in here. As Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, observes: Our prisons are overcrowded and under-resourced. We have seen a rise in prison suicides and in violence. The prisons are currently struggling to get prisoners out of their cells and into purposeful activities, let alone enforce a smoking ban.
Perhaps electronic cigarettes should be considered as a viable alternative.

30th July 2015, 15:39