Prison Rights: Scotland Is About To Ban Inmates From Smoking

Smoking
A man smokes a cigarette in central London on February 1, 2010. Scotland is set to ban smoking in its prisons. Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo/Reuters

Scotland is set to ban smoking in its prisons as part of a government drive to slash tobacco use—but an expert has warned it could mean a boom in smuggling, and a greater risk of violence. 

Staff, visitors and contractors are already not allowed to smoke anywhere on Scottish Prison Service (SPS) property. But a 2015 survey found that 72 percent of prisoners smoked, more than three times the proportion of the general population who did so, the BBC reported.

The Scottish government aims at creating a “tobacco-free generation” by 2034. Smoking in enclosed public spaces has been barred since 2006, but prisons have remained an exception.

It aims to end smoking in its prisons by the end of 2018, citing the need to tackle the dangers of secondhand smoke. 

Phil Fairlie, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association Scotland, welcomes the news. "Our members have claimed and argued all along, since the smoking ban was introduced, that they are constantly exposed to very high levels of smoking inside prisons,” he told the BBC.

But stopping smoking in prisons is not without risks and problems.

Alex Cavendish, a former prisoner turned prison expert, tells Newsweek that the demand for contraband tobacco in smoke-free prisoners could lead to a vast black market. 

In one prison in Dartmoor, England, which has tested a smoke-free environment, a pack of rolling tobacco could cost as much as £100, Cavendish said. The "huge price differential" between such rates inside the jail compared to shops outside where tobacco was relatively cheap and legal leads to "a temptation to corruption." A prison officer from the Dartmoor jail was convicted of smuggling tobacco in May this year.

Such markets create new administrative pressures on staff as they become embroiled in a "cat-and-mouse game of trying to stop people doing what is lawful to do on the outside," Cavendish said.

Black markets also can breed violence when prisoners are punished for not keeping up with debts. Cavendish added: "Prison is a very unforgiving place when it comes to nonpayment of debt."

Colin McConnell, chief executive of the SPS, said: "This will be a significant challenge. The percentage of people who smoke in prisons is much higher than the community at large," STV reported.

"I fully understand how difficult it will be for many in our care to give up smoking—that is why we are committed to working alongside our partners in the NHS to provide every support possible to assist them."

Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison said, "Smoking remains the biggest single cause of preventable ill-health and premature death in Scotland.

"We have taken wide-ranging action to address this, from our campaigns to take smoking right outside, to measures on tobacco advertising and packaging.

"I endorse this important step by SPS, which will contribute towards our ambition of creating a tobacco-free generation by 2034."